​“To increase the participants of AfCON from 16 to 24 is very wrong” Fekrou Kidane

Fekrou Kidane is a pioneer Ethiopian when it comes it sport journalism in the horn of Africa country, Ethiopia. Born and raised in Addis Ababa, Fekrou was the first Ethiopian journalist to give live radio commentary when Ethiopia locked horns against Sudan in 1957. He had also worked as the secretary general for the Tennis, Bicycle Federations and Olympic Committee likewise public relation officer from the Ethiopian Football Federation apart from his journalism career. The sport journalist who had a distinguished career also worked for L’Equipe, Deutsche Welle and Football France.
Fekrou had also served both International Olympic Committee and the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) as an official. He was also special advisor to the former Confederations of Africa de Football (CAF) president Issa Hayatou. Fekrou was also the first president of the Ethiopian Sport Journalists Association during its inception in 1968.

The veteran Ethiopian journalist Fekrou spoke to Soccer Ethiopia’s Omna Taddele from his home in Paris, France before he departed to Rome, Italy for the annual Ethiopian Sport and Culture Federation tournament and ANCOA Executive Committee meeting in Abuja, Nigeria as he reflected on the changes CAF made to the African Cup of Nations and other related pertinent issues.

After a meeting in Morocco capital Rabat last Thursday, CAF has expanded the African Cup of Nation tournament participation from 16 to 24 teams. The confederation has also changed the period which the biennial tourney takes place from January/February to June/ July. What is your observation on the sudden changes?

The European football clubs who employ a lot of African players were always against the African Cup of Nations liberating their players in January/February to play for their national teams in the tournament. They want their players to play for their countries in June/July during the European vacation period. The new CAF president Ahmad from Madagascar is very close Europe and FIFA. He therefore changed the periodicity of the African Cup of Nations to please Europe. Everyone knows especially in Ethiopians that June/July is the raining season in Africa. How can Ethiopia organize the competition in the raining season unless we do it in Adama and Dire Dawa alone? It is indeed a very bad decision.

To increase the number of teams from 16 to 24 is also very wrong. Africa is a poor continent. Very few countries have the facilities to organize a tournament with 24 teams. You need six stadiums and at least 12 training fields, hotel accommodation for the 24 teams, referees etc… in the different cities. The competition had already faced problems in organization with the 16 teams. You also need Air transportation beside that it is difficult to find competitive 24 teams. Maybe the new CAF president hopes that Madagascar, Djibouti and others will have a chance to qualify for the African Cup of Nations one day. The quality of the competition will be very poor. Even Europe who increased the number to 24 is finding it difficult to produce quality football.

Cameroon signed up for a tournament with 16 teams in 2019. You just can’t change the whole thing like this. FIFA increased the number of World Cup participation to 48 but that will be effective in 2026 not in 2018 or 2022. Only in Africa you could expect this kind of situations.

African football cannot survive without the support and assistance of the governments. One couldn’t organize the African Cup of Nations without government funds. We should also be realistic and acknowledge the African governments have other priorities than football and we can’t wake up one morning and change everything just to show up. From now on let’s wait and see.

Ever since the new CAF incumbent Ahmad Ahmad came to power back in March some of the decisions that his administration put to work are a different from the previous administration. Do you think Ahmad is trying to annihilate Issa Hayatou’s legacy instead of rectifying the wrongdoings of the previous administration?

The president of CAF Ahmad is trying his best to settle score with the predecessor president Hayatou. He is like the African government who wants to prove that the former government did nothing and the new one would do better. Ahmad wants the 2019 African Cup of Nations to be transferred to Morocco who helped him to be elected. In fact he even appointed the Royal Moroccan Football Federation president (Fouzi Lekjaa) as a third vice president by changing the status. For 60 years there were only two vice presidents.

Among the many executive decisions CAF passed last week was limiting the age of CAF presidency to 70 years and below. What’s your take on this and the other changes?

Ahmad has gratified most of his supporters by appointing them in different positions. The two decisions which I agree with are the age limit to 70 and not recognizing Zanzibar. I did defend these two points long time ago. The fact that the African members serving in FIFA Council are now also members of the CAF executive committee is acceptable since they were until now coopted members.

Zanzibar has been stripped of CAF membership barely after 4 months. You have also stated the verdict is a right one. CAF cited the process where Zanzibar acquired membership is improper. Faroe Island (Denmark) and Gibraltar (United Kingdom) are members of UEFA. What’s the problem if Zanzibar becomes a CAF 55th member association given their clubs has been actively participating in continental club tourneys in recent years?

You are right territories being affiliated to FIFA and other Confederations. That’s why Tanzania wanted Zanzibar to be recognized. Mind you Zanzibar was independent like Tanganyika before the confederation between them became Tanzania. Territories like Bermuda, Tahiti etc… are under French, British, and United States. You also have China, Hong Kong, and Taipei etc. From now on you have to be recognized by the United Nation. That’s before being afflicted. It is not the case of Zanzibar; you have also Reunion Island which is a full CAF member. That is absolutely wrong. Ahmad did not raise the question because he is from Madagascar and neighbor to Reunion.

One of the talking points for the past four months has been the alleged reports that FIFA president Gianni Infantino is meddling in CAF internal affairs. You had been Issa Hayatou’s advisor so what is your say on this controversial issue?

Of course Infantino made a campaign against Hayatou in Africa because the later did not support him. You have a Congolese working for Infantino who do the dirty job. In Addis FIFA, Morocco and Egypt corrupted all the delegates at the Hilton Hotel before the congress. It is classic in Africa that you can buy any delegate for election because of poverty. During my time the only wealth we had was our dignity. That is the only wealth I still have.

During the African Football Forum, which was organized in Addis, back in March you have repeatedly echoed that African governments are not putting much work basically in the youth sport. Do you think that trend will change sooner than later taking into consideration the reality?

I don’t think Africa will invest on her youth. Look our country’s sport. Unless you revive the school competition we will be lost. No space ground to play and no organized clubs but we have tourists going around making propaganda. We have Boling, Swimming, Gymnastic, and Basketball as members of the Olympic Committee. However, there is no visible work on these sports. When did you write stories about these sports? It is sad very sad.

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