By Brian Homewood
CAIRO (Reuters) – FIFA president Gianni Infantino has rejected comments that the global soccer body has taken a “colonialist” attitude towards African football and its governing organisation CAF (Confederation of African Football).
FIFA last month took the unprecedented move of announcing it would jointly administer African football with CAF and would send it its Senegalese secretary general Fatma Samoura on a ninth-month secondment to overhaul the African body.
The move followed corruption allegations against CAF president Ahmad Ahmad which he has denied.
Some African officials have opposed the move while former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, in a recent interview with the BBC, described it as a “new aspect of colonialism”.
Blatter has been banned from football for six years for ethics violations during his presidency. He denies wrongdoing.
“I have heard about colonialism, that FIFA is colonising Africa again,” Infantino told CAF’s general assembly on Thursday, adding that he was “puzzled” by the remarks.
“What does it mean, colonialism? I don’t know. It’s not part of my vocabulary.
“I know what it means to work, to team up, to roll up your sleeves, to go on the pitch and help and that is what we are doing,” he added. “(Samoura’s) heart is beating for Africa and we all suffer when we see what is going on here.”
Infantino said that it was important that African football had competitions where “people trust the organisation, where the stadium is secure and it is safe, where matches are not manipulated, where people trust the referees — these are some of the issues that African football is facing.”
Infantino added that CAF needed to think about growing the sport in the region without depending on FIFA handouts.
“The point is to generate revenues for African football from Africa,” he said.
Ahmad was reported in March to FIFA’s ethics committee by CAF general secretary Amr Fahmy, who was then fired.
Further allegations of fraud have recently been made against Ahmad, who was detained and questioned by French authorities in June as part of a corruption investigation.
Ahmad has denied wrongdoing in several media interviews but has not responded to repeated requests by Reuters for comment on the specific allegations against him.
The CAF Champions League final, played in May, remains unresolved after one team walked off the pitch in protest at a refereeing decision while the Africa Cup of Nations has been played against a backdrop of empty stadiums in Egypt.
Ahmad, in a speech to the assembly, said it was his decision to ask for FIFA’s help.
“When I went to ask for help, I found a man (Infantino) well aware of the problems of Africa, I found a man who loves Africa and his behaviour proves it,” he said.
(Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Toby Davis)