After 29 Years, Kingpin of African Soccer Is Abruptly Shown the Door

Cameroon’s victorious players were still dancing on the field at the Stade de l’Amitié in Libreville, Gabon, when Issa Hayatou — African soccer’s apparently unassailable kingpin — decided he deserved a moment of triumph, too.

He was present, at the final of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, to hand out medals to the winners and to offer a consoling hand to the losers. It was a role he had come to know well over the course of the 29 years he had spent as president of the Confederation of African Football, African soccer’s governing body.

That did not stop him from breaking just a little with protocol. Standing on the podium that had been constructed in the center of the field, Mr. Hayatou briefly clasped the trophy with both hands, held it aloft, and turned, beaming, to the crowd.

Mr. Hayatou, 70, had every reason to be happy. He had just witnessed his homeland beat Egypt to win his tournament, the competition he had transformed, in a stadium and a country he had all but handpicked to host it. In that moment, Mr. Hayatou’s power must have seemed complete.

Not two months later, it has evaporated completely. On Thursday, at the federation’s congress in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Mr. Hayatou was finally removed as the head of African soccer, resoundingly beaten, in a 34-to-20 vote, by Ahmad Ahmad, the previously unheralded president of Madagascar’s football association.


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