New Cameroon FA president Eto'o facing early challenges
December 17, 2021
Less than a month before Cameroon is set to host the Africa Cup of Nations, newly-elected football federation president Samuel Eto'o is under pressure. Ensuring both player and fan safety is the top priority.
Less than a month before the start of the tournament, social media was rampant with conjecture of the Africa Cup of Nations being postponed at the behest of Europe's biggest football clubs.
Europe's elite are worried that, with the coronavirus pandemic as prevalent as ever, stars like Premier League top scorer Mohamed Salah (Egypt) are at risk of missing even more games beyond the month-long AFCON tournament.
It is also true that clubs are concerned about the strife in host nation Cameroon's English-speaking region where separatist groups have battled government forces over the last four years. The Confederation of African Football (CAF), which sanctions AFCON, played down postponement talks as "fake news."
The four-time African Footballer of the Year was voted in for a four-year term on Saturday, defeating interim president Seidou Mbombo Njoya by 43 votes to 31 in the federation's general assembly.
A two-time AFCON and three-time Champions League winner with 118 appearances and 56 goals for Cameroon, Eto'o called his election "one of the proudest moments" of his life.
"Every vote," Eto'o said, "represents the energy and ambition of our football family to take our beloved sport to a level we've never seen before."
Eto'o filed his candidacy just weeks before the 2021 vote, saying "I will be the next president of the federation despite all the cheating." In Eto'o's eyes, his predecessor Njoya, whose election was annulled by the International Court of Arbitration for Sport in 2018, had "failed miserably" as president.
The 40-year-old received endorsements from other presidential candidates, who withdrew their own bids, as well as global stars such as former Barcelona teammate Lionel Messi and Cameroon international Roger Milla.
A fresh start for Cameroon
The campaign Eto'o ran was focused on promoting women's football and eliminating corruption in the Cameroonian game.
Beyond the highly-visible Africa Cup of Nations - BBC and Sky in England have just announced a broadcast deal that covers all 52 matches - corruption allegations have been a dominant issue within the Cameroon football federation.
"During the campaign…Eto'o said the days when players are paying to play on the national team, 'those days are over,'" reports DW Yaounde correspondent Moki Edwin Kindzeka. "Those who merit playing on the national team will be called up to play."
Cameroon was first due to host the Africa Cup of Nations in 2019, but on November 30, 2018, it was stripped of hosting because of infrastructure delays, as well as concern about violence in the Anglophone region.
DW asked FECAFOOTs acting Secretary General, Parfait Siki, a former federation communications director, for a response, but after initial contact, he declined to comment.
Eto'o holds star status in Cameroon, but is considered an unproven administrator. "His telecom company crumbled. He ventured into real estate and that crumbled," Kindzeka said, "raising fears that the football legend may be a bad manager."
Still, many who follow football in Cameroon have been buoyed by Eto'o's election. "Generally, the man on the street loves Eto'o," said Kindzeka, "in spite of the fact that they don't know anything about his managerial abilities."
The election's positive impact was also underlined with reports suggesting that Liverpool defender Joel Matip is considering ending his international retirement to represent Cameroon once again.
Down to work
As the scheduled kickoff for the Africa Cup of Nations draws closer, Eto'o is set to be a busy man. He is said to be meeting regularly with representatives of CAF, and is reportedly due to meet with FIFA President Gianni Infantino in coming days.
The coronavirus concerns are unlikely to dissipate and it's up to Eto'o, his federation and CAF, to ensure both player and fan safety. TheEuropean Club Association, which represents football clubs across Europe, has said it has "deep concerns" about the health of players in advance of AFCON as public health "continues to deteriorate in an alarming manner."
Those concerns aren't eased by the fact AFCON intends to use six stadiums scattered in five cities across Cameroon. That includes matches in those English-speaking regions where separatists have been fighting government forces for the last four years.
Eto'o seems to know the pressure is on. Hosting AFCON will be the first major test of his presidency. Irrespective of whether Africa's showpiece footballing event goes ahead as planned or not, it's clear that change is afoot at FECAFOOT.