Sports Features of Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Source: Joe Aggrey/Finder Sports

Till deathe do us part...

The above is part of the well-known vow that is taken by couples during wedding ceremonies in Christian world to signify that the union of a man and woman would only end when either of them died. This biblical injunction simply means that the two can only be separated by death.

It appears to me that that is what motivates the endangered species of politicians, commonly referred to as dictators or despots the world over, to cling to their positions even when it is clear to most that they have long overstayed their welcome. Wait a minute, did I say politicians? Indeed, examples of such breed abound in several areas of human endeavor.

The sporting world has more than its fair share of men who are unable or unwilling to accept the fact they have either outlived their usefulness or have no business hanging around any longer. Significantly, this bug is capable of biting not only men in authority but performers as well.

Incidentally, it is boxing, considered one of the hardest disciplines, that has produced the highest number of sportsmen who refuse to say goodbye even when the lights have long gone down on their performances.

Quite recently, I was saddened to watch on television one of Ghana’s former world champions trying to stage a comeback of sorts.

He was subjected to a humiliating beating by an opponent who is in the process of building a fledgling career and was more than happy to pad his record with an easy workout against an opponent who, in his halcyon days, was considered a terror.

This might be an extreme example but you can bet your bottom cedi that it would definitely not be the first or the last of a disturbing trend. Either for economic considerations or the desire to remain in the limelight, ageing boxers, in particular, keep soldiering on, without giving much thought to the consequence to their health, not to talk about the damage to their hard-earned reputation, while giving the sport a bad image to boot.

But the situation is even more pronounced in certain fields of sports administration, particularly in the international arena. It is not for nothing that some people refer to some of these international sports bodies in derogatory terms, sometimes likening them to the mafia.

Rightly or wrongly, perceptions about bodies like the Confederation of African Football (CAF), the Association of International Football Federations (FIFA) and even the International Olympic Committee (IOC) are largely negative. And one of the primary reasons for this is the fact that people who get elected to those bodies tend to stick together as if they are in a brotherhood and what’s more manage to cling to whatever positions they hold till ‘thy kingdom come’.

Take the CAF, for instance. It is 55 years old and during this period, the continent’s soccer controlling body has had only five presidents. The Egyptian Abdalla Salem, the inaugural president, was in office for only one year (1957-58) before Abdalla Aziz Mustapha took over and was at the helm for a decade (1958-1968).

He was made honorary president on leaving office. His successor was Sudan’s Abdel Halim Mohammed who was in office from 1968 to 1972. After him arrived Ethiopia’s Y. Tessema , who died on the job after 15 years in charge, which then became the longest stay in office by a CAF boss..

Of course, this record has already been broken by the incumbent. Camerounian Issa Hayatou, who came in one year after the death of Tessema, has already been in the driving seat for 24 years and is seeking another mandate. The 74-year -old looks set to extend his term, despite the fact that for some time now, he has shown signs of serious tear and wear. He has been struggling to walk and many who had expected him to say goodbye would be disappointed that he is still hanging on.

Perhaps, Alhaji Hayatou is being typical and is taking a leaf from no less a man than Jules Rimet, who was the first FIFA president. The Frenchman, after whom the first World Cup was named, was in office for 33 years.

He died two years after he left office, aged 82. Then was Brazilian Jaoa Havelange; he was the FIFA supremo for 24 years and only stepped down in 1998 when he was 82 years old. He is now 96 and is said to be in poor health with allegations of corruption swirling around him and some of his cohorts.

The current FIFA boss, Sepp Blatter, who was a long-serving General Secretary of FIFA and took over when Havelange quit, is in his last term as president. He is under pressure to quit, even before his time is due, as calls for a clean-up of the world’s most popular sport grow louder and louder.

To illustrate how endemic the disease has been would be incomplete if we don’t look at the revered body which oversees sports at the highest level—the International Olympic Committee (IOC). Just three examples will suffice.

It began from the beginning, when the founder of modern Olympics, Baron Pierre de Courbetin, was at the helm from 1896 to 1925— a period of 29 years.

Then was American Avery Brundage , who was in office for two decades from 1952 to 1972, and died three years after he handed over at the advanced age of 85 years. All this while, there was no limit to how long one could stay in office until the arrival on the scene by Juan Antonio Samaranch in 1980.

It was during the Spaniard’s term, which lasted 21 years (incidentally, the second longest after the founder) that certain changes to tenure of office began to take effect.

On the prompting of Samaranch, it was first decided that members of the IOC board should retire at the age of 75 years. Later, it was agreed that all members should be limited to a term of eight years whilst the president was allowed eight years, renewable once for four years. This is still the situation, meaning the head of the highest body for Olympics can only be at the helm for a maximum of 12 years.

Perhaps, it is this that has informed the suggestion by Ivorian Jacques Anouma that the CAF should limit the term of its president to a maximum of three mandates of four years each. In the estimation of Mr. Anouma, any ideas by a president that cannot be implemented within 12 years don’t have a chance of success, no matter how much longer he stayed in office.

I couldn’t agree with him more. I believe in the saying that the “old order changeth yielding place to new, lest one good custom should corrupt the world”. As they say, position is not possession and the mentality of dying on the job has long become anachronistic.