By Elume Raymond™
Organized in a hotel in Yaoundé completely controlled by the police, broadcast live on television, it is an understatement to say that the election of the new boss of the Cameroonian Football Federation (Fecafoot) was expected. Not only had football fans been deprived of competition since the championships came to an end in September 2021 without any date for resumption set, but the country had to host the next African Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2021 from January 9 to February 6, 2022.
Massively supported by public opinion, Samuel Eto’o, former striker of the Indomitable Lions of Cameroon (118 selections, 56 goals), was therefore elected, Saturday, December 11, at the head of the body for a four-year term, beating the outgoing president, Seidou Mbombo Njoya, by 43 votes to 31. Two years after ending his football career, the former FC Barcelona and Inter Milan striker is the first player since the election of Pascal Owona Baylon in 1993, to reach the top of the hierarchy of Cameroonian football.
And the task promises to be difficult: Samuel Eto’o inherits an organization weakened by repeated crises and local football in dire need of resources.
Fecafoot has been going through a serious governance crisis for several years. It has been placed under the supervision of normalization committees by the International Football Federation (FIFA) several times: from 2013 to 2015, following the re-election of Iya Mohamed, and from 2017 to 2018, after the election of Tombi A Roko, all against a backdrop of accusations of corruption.
The Samuel Eto’o to-do list
Samuel Eto’o, eager to show that times have changed, announced that he would keep nothing of the salary he will receive for his new duties and that he would donate it to develop amateur football in Cameroon. He also renewed 90% of the executive committee of the federation, retaining only four members of the old team.
The former captain of the Indomitable Lions wishes to establish a charter of good conduct which will apply to the members of the executive committee and the presidents of the decentralized leagues, but also to improve the communication of the body by means, in particular, of the creation of a channel dedicated to the sport and the modernization of the Fecafoot website.
Samuel Eto’o was very critical of Seidou Mbombo Njoya’s record. He reproached him for an exercise of power that was too solitary, for conflicting relations with the Cameroonian sports ministry and for not having kept its commitments in terms of the development of women’s football. “The expectation vis-à-vis Eto’o is very high when it comes to football for young people, women’s football, but also professional football”, deplores the leader of a professional club. “People expect long-lasting, well-organized competitions. Amateurs and supporters are tired of seeing Cameroonian football doing so badly. During continental competitions, our clubs are often eliminated very quickly!”
The new president of Fecafoot, who was African champion in 2000 and 2002, wants in particular to organize a national championship including the different age categories. Himself from a local training center, the Kadji Sport Academy, Samuel Eto’o plans to build three structures of this type and forty municipal stadiums by 2030.
Mr. Eto’o undertook to make the professional championships (league 1 and 2) more attractive, by attracting new economic partners and by working to increase the subsidies allocated to clubs by the State. To achieve this goal, he wants to work more closely with the Transitional Professional Football Committee (CTFP).
The new Cameroonian football boss will also have to tackle improving the living conditions of professional players, many of whom receive salaries that are rarely enough to support themselves. “Today, many of us are forced to do odd jobs on the side”, denounces Joël Ndzana, currently without a club after leaving Panthère Sportive du Ndé. “However, he continues, we ask for simple things: a regular calendar for the professional championships, which is the minimum for a great football country like Cameroon; decent wages paid monthly to players, respect for contracts signed by clubs. Eto’o knows the realities of local football, and that’s why the players have mostly supported him”.
Can Samuel Eto’o meet these challenges? During his campaign, the ex-champion in any case presented himself as a unifier. “He said he was ready to listen to divergent opinions, to reach out and even to involve opponents in the management of the federation,” explains Samuel Biyong, journalist at Cameroon Radio Television. “He believes that Cameroonian football has been divided for too long, in particular because of the crises that have shaken Fecafoot, and that it is time to put an end to this”, adds a close friend of Eto’o. The candidate Eto’o had thus courted many former internationals, including Emmanuel Maboang, Roger Milla, Patrick Mboma, Rigobert Song and a few others, who officially supported him.
The test of fire came quickly for the new leader. Having become de facto vice-president of the AFCON local organizing committee, he was in the front line from January for the organization of a competition whose preparation by Cameroon had suffered many delays and difficulties. His compatriots noticed that his presence was additional source of motivation for the national team, five years after their unexpected coronation in 2017.
Eto’o’s successes four months after
We must appreciate the fact that Samuel Eto’o succeeded in increasing the subsidies of the first division clubs to 20 million FCFA and those of the second division clubs to 10 million FCFA. Fecafoot also provided accommodation and catering for the Elite One and Two clubs.
The former captain of the Indomitable Lions has nevertheless shown himself to be decisive and unconditional in the face of certain situations, in particular FIFA’s desire to postpone the African Cup of Nations. He was also firm in the face of allegations by the Confederation of African Football, which accused Fecafoot of having been “guilty of a violation of contractual commitments during the CAN TotalEnergies Cameroon 2021”. Samuel Eto’o has shown above all during these first four months at Fecafoot that he has a grip. On the case of Portuguese coach Antonio Conceicao, he did not fail to call sports minister Narcisse Mouelle Kombi to order. Moreover, he succeeded in getting a local coach, ally, teammate and former team captain, Rigobert Song to manage the national team on a two-year contract. This faith was repaid in Blida with a World Cup qualification spot to feature in the finals in Qatar.
Samuel Eto’o has also proven his commitment to negotiate agreements for the old cases that are rocking Fecafoot. He reiterated this commitment before the members of the Executive Committee on February 16 in Limbe. “I manage the heavy litigation liabilities of my predecessors. Without pretending to impose my point of view, these disputes are a thorn to extract from the foot of the new executive, to allow us to calmly continue his term of office,” he said.
In four months, Samuel Eto’o Fils can congratulate himself on having convinced Prosper Nkou Mvondo, president of Etoile Filante de Garoua, to revise a debt of around one billion to settle for the “modest lump sum of 20 million, for the interest of football”.
He succeeded in obtaining a similar arrangement with Soleil Nyassa, a member of the Executive Committee of Fecafoot. He also convinced Benjamin Didier Banlock, the current secretary general, to abandon a procedure he had initiated against Fecafoot.
In addition, he obtained from General Pierre Semengue the suspension of his proceedings at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The latter finally agreed to head a transitional committee responsible for organizing the Elite One and Elite Two championships.
For Samuel Eto’o Fils, all these victories are also economic. This kind of procedures cost the federation nearly 900 million FCFA during the time of its predecessor, Seidou Mbombo Njoya.
Samuel Eto’o soon to be ex-president of FECAFOOT
At first, it was mission impossible.
In the race to become president of Fecafoot, Samuel Eto’o was up against Fifa, which is increasingly scrutinizing the heads of national federations. Gianni Infantino, Fifa’s Italian-Swiss boss, would like the World Cup to be held every two years, whereas South Africa’s Patrice Motsepe, his ally at CAF, wants the African Cup of Nations to take place every four years.
The two men are working together to launch an African Superleague. Furthermore, their two bodies do not want headstrong leaders to be appointed, as they would likely resist these unpopular ideas.
The CAF secretary-general, Veron Mosengo, who is close to Infantino, tried to get Eto’o to withdraw from a meeting in Kinshasa back in November 2021. Part of the Cameroonian regime also distrusted the former international footballer, who was finally elected on 11 December 2021.
It is true that Eto’o had nothing to fear from Paul Biya. On the other hand, some prominent government members are concerned about how popular the former captain of the Indomptables Lions is. He had to assure everyone that his run for the Fecafoot presidency was not politically motivated.
Eto’o was also confronted with the Iya Mohammed system, which had been orchestrated by this former boss of Sodecoton. This network has controlled Fecafoot for over 20 years. It is made up of 12 regional delegates from the north and several other ‘northern’ delegates with different professions (club presidents, referees, coaches). Their strength? They are known for standing together and unanimously voting for the candidate of their choice. Whoever is supported by the North is the favourite.
To take on the system, the footballer relied on communication campaigns and lobbying. He hired the services of Mireille Fomekong, head of the communication agency Ascèse, which is based in Douala. The latter chose to play the people against the elite in order to oppose popular pressure to the individual interests of each of the 76 voting delegates.
Eto’o, who has extensive knowledge of ethno-regional geopolitics and has conducted a sociographic study, also negotiated directly and personally with the delegates. Furthermore, he managed to secure the support of political and business barons, such as billionaire Baba Ahmadou Danpullo.
From then on, the fight for delegates from the other regions was on. In this game, the contender travelled thousands of kilometres to convince voters of the need to change the leaders of Cameroonian football. More than 50% of them were replaced during the election.
The African Cup of Nations was in full swing when correspondence from the Court of Arbitration for Sport, addressed to FÉCAFOOT, landed in its offices. Indeed, following the CAS verdict which annulled the election which had brought Mbombo Njoya to the presidency of the body, but which refused to specify that it was the 2009 GA which was legal and legitimate for the future, a complaint of precision was lodged by the Abdouramane dissident camp.
The Conciliation and Arbitration Chamber (CCA) of the National Olympic Committee was thus seized for the purpose of restoring the 2009 GA.
Fecafoot refused to take part in this procedure, considering the CCA incompetent. Faced with this absence, the CCA rendered a decision on June 10, 2021 giving a positive verdict to the Abdouramane camp and restoring the 2009 GA as the only legal and legitimate body.
Even if it decided not to take part in the process, Fecafoot will nevertheless appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
After the election won by Samuel Eto’o, the new president held a conciliatory speech, believing that he should go to those dissatisfied with the Federation to restore a lasting and definitive peace. But before, he wanted the “opponents” to withdraw the various complaints that had been introduced in the various courts.
Except that all the actions of the new president, believe the other camp, were only united in actions of ingratitude. Despite the decision not to stop with the procedures, Samuel Eto’o’s Fécafoot will then not only forget to withdraw its own complaint, but also to pay the advance of the procedural costs to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
What this means is that in the coming weeks, the CAS should ratify the CCA’s award of June 10, 2021 recognizing the 2009 General Assembly as the only legal GA. And following this, the entire 2021 electoral process that brought Samuel Eto’o Fils at the helm of the federation will be cancelled. A thought many in the public opinion are not prepared to fathom.
(Excerpts courtesy of camfoot.com)
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