The election of Patrice Motsepe as president of the Confederation of African Football, unopposed, marks an interesting departure for African sports administration, putting one of the continent’s top business people in at the top rather than promoting a very good sports administrator into the job.
The reasons, in retrospect, seem obvious.
CAF is largely the creation of an exceptionally long-serving and very able administrator, Yidnekatchew Tessema of Ethiopia who served over 15 years and for all practical purposes died in the post.
His designated successor Issa Hayatou of Cameron in an even longer 29 years, made much important progress and yet saw allegations at the end that he had been involved in some of the scandals that hit Fifa at that time.
Then the immediate past president, Ahmad Ahmad of Madagascar, who had unseated Hayatou in 2017, and made many of the right noises about the need for a open and clean administration, especially when it came to financial affairs, was banned from football by FIFA for ethics violations last year.
So the South Africans suddenly realised they had a candidate.
Motsepe is not detached from sports administration or ignorant of the subject.
He is the majority owner of Mamelodi Sundowns, the most consistently successful football club in South Africa, as well as having a good stake in Blue Bulls, a rugby franchise.
His sports administration is built on investment and support of talent, not a bad start.
And his club is regarded as squeaky clean.
But it was the other part of his life that must have made him an attractive choice.
He is one of South Africa’s top business people, with some listing him as South Africa’s richest person although even with movements around the top he is certainly one of the richest.
And he built that mining and investment empire the hard way, by making the better business decisions.
He in fact started by making money from mines that were being dumped as unproductive but which he turned round.
So on the positive side, as the South Africans must be stressed when they pushed his name forward, CAF gets someone who knows precisely, from the inside out as it were, how a giant organisation should be run, and the sort of accounting and other details that shareholders, and in this case these are the CAF member associations, want to see.
Secondly when sponsor deals are being sorted out, and other financing arranged, a business person of Motsepe’s rank is listened to by the very biggest sponsors.
The sponsorship proposals can be presented in way that these people understand, and the supportive upgraded administration can show sponsors exactly where their money goes and how it is spent.
CAF has sports people and sports talent. It needs someone who can present that reliable, steady, clean, “businesslike” image to the world, to the sponsors and to the associations.
There is the other side of course, although this was unlikely to be mentioned but a nod is as good as a wink.
Considering the allegations that so sadly diminished the final days of his two predecessors, it is fairly obvious that someone of Motsepe’s business stature cannot risk even a shadow of a corruption allegation.
He has his own reputation to guard. And in any case how do you bribe a billionaire if you want the crude question.
The South Africans ran their campaign well.
Their candidate was not a front runner. But they followed the right path. They showed their man.
First those in the region, Cosafa, realised that their neighbour had the right candidate.
The East Africans saw the point, and even a growing number of West African countries were impressed.
This Anglophone-Francophone-Arab potential splitting can be the bane of sport in Africa, and it usually needs some special pressure, or special candidate, to get round it.
The Motsepe camp were not looking for victory; they were looking for first class administration in soccer by someone who would bring the virtues of the outside business world into the heart of the organisation,
So yes, they were more than happy to balance the ticket and make sure that Motsepe will have adequate input from other parts of Africa, from other points of view, from people who have spent their life in sport.
After all those are his potential weaknesses as a sort of outsider.
But African football has now got a leader who can lead in 21st century sport, one who can lead Fifa’s largest, although far from richest, continental body and who can bring the discipline and other virtues from the business world, and combine this with what must be his fanaticism for soccer to be willing to take the job.
So what is a non-traditional choice will probably turn out to be a first class choice and one who can now add the depth and discipline and transparency to the that great soccer force built by the pioneers of African soccer who have made the continent a force to reckon with on the field.