CAF case against Hayatou critic highlights spiteful election

FILE - In this Friday, Feb. 26, 2016 file photo, then Acting FIFA President Issa Hayatou of Cameroon sits on the podium during the extraordinary FIFA congress in Zurich, Switzerland. Hayatou's reign could end at the Confederation of African Football's general assembly in Ethiopia on Thursday, March 16, 2017, after nearly 30 years as the head of the African soccer confederation and a top FIFA executive. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Highlighting what's become a spiteful election campaign, the Confederation of African Football will proceed with a disciplinary case against a fierce critic of veteran leader Issa Hayatou, who is seeking to extend his 29-year reign over soccer on the continent on Thursday.

The target of CAF's investigation is running the campaign of Hayatou's opponent in the CAF presidential election.

CAF's disciplinary board will investigate southern African soccer union head Phillip Chiyangwa after he reportedly launched a scathing attack on Hayatou in a media interview. He also reportedly branded members of CAF's executive committee "cowards" and "cronies" for not standing up to Hayatou, who has been in charge of African soccer since 1988.

A newcomer to African soccer politics, Chiyangwa has described himself as the campaign manager for Madagascar FA president Ahmad, Hayatou's challenger on Thursday.

The 70-year-old Hayatou, who is also FIFA's senior vice president, is seeking an eighth term in office and has only been challenged in a vote twice before. Both times he won by landslide. His FIFA vice presidency and place on FIFA's ruling council is also at stake in Addis Ababa.

"My crime is standing up to the emperor," Chiyangwa told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "They are after me, but I'm after them at the ballot box. That's the decider and after the elections tomorrow I will sleep well and they will be miserable."

CAF made the decision to proceed with the case against Chiyangwa, the Zimbabwe Football Association president, at its executive committee meeting two days before the big election.

Chiyangwa's recent actions and statements appear to "attack the honor of the CAF, its president and the members of the executive committee," CAF said when announcing the disciplinary board had been given the go-ahead to investigate the Zimbabwean.

CAF spokesman Junior Binyam declined to give details of the exact charges or possible sanctions against Chiyangwa because the case is "in a legal process." It was unclear if the proceedings would prevent Chiyangwa from voting in the election, when Hayatou is expected to face his sternest challenge.

Chiyangwa said he had not yet been provided with a list of the charges against him or told when his disciplinary hearing would be.

A property tycoon who only took his first job in soccer in late 2015, Chiyangwa has claimed that Ahmad has enough support to defeat Hayatou and give African soccer a new leader for the first time in three decades. Ahmad would become a FIFA vice president and take Hayatou's place on the FIFA Council if he wins.

Although Chiyangwa has claimed widespread support for Ahmad, public announcements backing the challenger haven't matched that.

An interview this month with a Nigerian radio station — from which comments were published in Zimbabwe — appears to be part of the disciplinary case against Chiyangwa. He was quoted as referring to Hayatou as "our old man who does not listen to anybody." He said it was time for Hayatou to leave CAF to look after his grandchildren.

Chiyangwa's comments to the radio station were reported in Zimbabwean newspaper NewsDay, which didn't identify the Nigerian station.

Chiyangwa was also involved in a dispute with CAF over a party he hosted in Zimbabwe last month attended by FIFA President Gianni Infantino and African federation heads. CAF said the meeting was against its regulations and an attempt to "destabilize" CAF.

CAF's 54 full member countries will vote in the presidential election. There will also be elections for Africa's other six places on the FIFA Council and FIFA president Infantino is in Ethiopia for the votes.

CAF's general assembly is also expected to decide if Zanzibar, an archipelago of islands in the Indian Ocean and a semi-autonomous part of Tanzania, should become a full member of the African confederation.

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AP writer Andrew Jackson Oryada contributed.

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