When Issa Hayatou is granted the status of honorary Confederation of African Football (Caf) president on Friday, it will represent a significant departure from the Cameroonian’s treatment by the organisation shortly after his ousting in March 2017.
The longest-standing leader in Caf’s history is to be recognised in his home nation Cameroon in a special ceremony on the eve of the country’s hosting of the African Nations Championship.
The 74-year-old led Caf from 1988 to 2017, during which he transformed an organisation that was near-destitute at times into one which he handed over to his successor Ahmad with in excess of $130m in the bank and an ever-increasing array of competitions.
“This distinguished leader presided over Caf for 30 years,” Caf stated last month. “This honour salutes his immense role in the development of African football.”
Nonetheless, just four months after he was dethroned, the Executive Committee (ExCo) of the new Caf administration chose to deny paying a pension to said ‘distinguished leader’.
“To me, it was just vindictive,” Suketu Patel, who served as Hayatou’s first vice-president for many years, told BBC Sport Africa. “They wanted to punish the old guard for some reason.”
At a meeting in Morocco in July 2017, the ExCo approved a decision that any of its members – whether retired or still serving – could not receive a pension since they had never financially contributed to one.
“Members of the ExCo … are not entitled to a pension but only to a bonus during their term of office,” read the minutes from an ExCo meeting in July 2017.
At a stroke, the financial reward for nearly three decades of service from Hayatou, who had refused a meaningful Caf salary until the final stages of his reign, had been reduced to zero.
Yet the decision did not only affect Hayatou but also other outgoing ExCo members who had become eligible for a pension by serving more than eight years, including former Seychelles FA president Patel among others.
Both Hayatou and Patel – who joined the ExCo in 2004 – left Caf in March 2017, the same month that Madagascar’s Ahmad had stunned the African football community by dethroning the continental game’s long-time ruler.
After the elections in Ethiopia, both Caf and world governing body Fifa reacted in very different ways.
In May 2017, the latter bestowed on Hayatou the title of honorary vice president – a role he had fulfilled for decades since the Caf president automatically assumes such a position – at its congress in Bahrain.
Two months later, while approving bonuses for themselves amounting to $60,000 for regular ExCo members, $70,000 for vice-presidents and $80,000 for the president, Caf’s ExCo effectively stopped Hayatou’s pension.
“There was no legal standing in their position, it was a feeble excuse,” Patel said. “If you don’t have proper grounds to do something, then the reason you are doing it is because you don’t like doing it.”
“Both the pension (issue) and the refusal to recognise the service of people who have done something in the past for the organisation is a mindset. If I was Issa, I would not accept (the honorary award).”
“It’s a shame on Caf. How can you let Fifa honour him within three months of his departure? For Caf, it should have been the automatic thing to do after the election.”
“Now because they go to Cameroon, they offer him this? Sorry, but this is too late.”
Ahmad did not comment when BBC Sport Africa asked him why Caf chose to stop Hayatou’s pension shortly after he took charge.
He did, however, tell the BBC in June last year that he believed the Cameroonian should be honorary president – “that’s for sure” – but that a decision by the ExCo on the matter was required first.
Shortly after Caf informed him in August 2017 that his pension would not be granted, Patel took his case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas).
“The principle was wrong,” said Patel, who was Caf’s Finance Director between 2004-2017 and whose appeal cost him around $20,000.
“It was wrong for them to punish others, including people like Issa. He would not have fought. To him, it would have almost been demeaning.”
During the time his Cas case was being heard between August 2017 and March 2018, meeting minutes show that the ExCo, in January 2018, determined a new sort of ‘pension’ in the form of end-of-service bonuses.
ExCo staff would now receive an end-of-service bonus – “regardless of the number of mandates or years spent” – which came to $150,000 for regular members, $250,000 for vice-presidents and $500,000 for the president, even though there was still no financial contribution being made.
“It proves there was no logic at all,” added Patel.
An increase in both salaries and allowances for Caf staff was a feature of the first year of Ahmad’s administration, when a wholesale 25% increase for all staff was introduced as was the decision to increase daily allowances by 50% (so taking an ExCo member’s daily rate from $300 to $450).
Yet such generosity was in short supply when it came to some of Caf’s former leaders, erroneously so in the eyes of sport’s highest legal body.
In March 2018, Cas overturned the ExCo decision to deny a pension to Patel, ordering the African body – which had wanted Patel’s case thrown out while demanding he fund Caf’s legal fees – to pay him his dues, which amounted to just over $100,000.
“The panel concludes that the contested decision is contrary to the principle of non-retroactivity [meaning it could not have effect from a date before it was made], as well as the principle of legitimate expectations, and must therefore be cancelled,” stated Cas, whose report – seen by the BBC – was never made public.
Shortly after, Hayatou – who did not wish to comment when contacted by the BBC – also successfully appealed Caf’s decision to bar his pension at Cas.
On Friday, such a row will be put to one side when the Cameroonian, who has stayed out of the limelight since 2017, will be recognised by the organisation to which he devoted most of his working life.
It will take place in Yaounde where the ExCo, whose U-turn on Hayatou was completed when proposing that the latter be made honorary president, is meeting ahead of the African Nations Championship.
The ceremony will see Hayatou received by DR Congo’s Constant Omari, Caf’s acting president after Ahmad became the first Caf ruler to be banned by Fifa, for five years, after being adjudged to have breached its code of ethics.
It is unclear whether his suspension, which he is appealing, will affect his own end-of-term bonus.