« I am in constant contact with Samuel Eto’o » – Jeune Afrique

On the occasion of the kick-off of the 33rd African Cup of Nations (CAN), which takes place from January 9 to February 6 in Cameroon, Fouzi Lekjâa, the president of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation, agreed to answer questions from Jeune Afrique.

CAN: the African football festival (finally) celebrated in Cameroon

The opening yesterday of the 33and edition of the CAN, was preceded by several controversies. The new president of the Cameroon Football Federation, Samuel Eto’o, notably attacked European clubs, denouncing their multiple attempts to postpone the competition.

In addition, the Senegalese Football Federation is in open conflict with the English club Watford, which refuses to let one of its players, Ismaïla Sarr, play in the tournament.

Finally, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has experienced a series of successive crises, which have resulted in the departure of several of its executives, and the suspension of two of its former presidents. One of them, the emblematic Issa Hayatou, was even fined 24.5 million euros for « abuse of a dominant position » in the granting of TV broadcasting rights for African competitions, and suspended from all football-related activity until August 3, 2022.

It is in this turbulent context that the president of the Royal Moroccan Football Federation (FRMF) and member of the executive office of Fifa, Fouzi Lekjâa, also Minister Delegate to the Minister of Economy and Finance of the Kingdom, accepted to answer questions from Y.A.

Since October, you have been Budget Minister. This is your first ministerial portfolio. With your activity as president of the federation, we can imagine your busy days… How is this transition going in your professional life?

My days were already busy before, but it’s true that they are now even more so. As a manager, you have to adapt to new situations, delegate more, and set up parallel structures to find the right balance in the exercise of these multiple functions.

In recent years, Morocco has extended its influence in the world of football, especially across the continent. What role does the kingdom intend to play in the years to come in the development of African football?

Morocco has regained its place in African football, of which it is one of the great nations. His absence was unjustified and meaningless.

We regained this position following the Addis Ababa Congress in 2017. We then consolidated it within the Executive Committee of the Confederation of African Football (CAF), then on the FIFA Council.

Morocco now participates actively and continuously in the development of African and world football.

We have carried out a whole series of actions with several federations. In recent years, Morocco has been one of the main players in the highlights of African football. Take the final knockout stages of the 2022 World Cup, for example. We hosted more than 25 matches by mobilizing all our stadiums to receive our brothers of different nationalities.

Morocco has been exemplary in terms of cooperation and participates in real initiatives, in difficult circumstances linked to the pandemic.

Beyond football, this vision is part of the policy desired by the king to implement the New Development Model based on a South-South partnership.

Several European clubs have unsuccessfully lobbied Fifa for the postponement of the CAN, so as not to have to release their players. Several personalities, including Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba, strongly criticized this process. Your name has emerged in this debate, and you have been presented as in favor of this postponement. What exactly is it?

This is absolutely not the case. These are rumors without foundation or logic. During the general assembly of the CAF, in Cairo, we unanimously validated the start of the CAN from January 9th. Cameroon was supposed to host this edition two years ago, but it needed time to be ready. I had made a statement to say that the kingdom was making every effort to help Cameroon organize the competition.

When the Omicron variant began to circulate actively, the President of CAF, Mr. Mostepe, invited the members of the Executive Committee to a meeting whose agenda was exclusively devoted to CAN in the health context. At the end of this meeting, I myself congratulated Cameroon for the adaptation efforts it has made. We have always been by his side and vice versa.

Moreover, I am in continuous and permanent contact with the new president of the Cameroonian Football Federation, Samuel Eto’o. The Moroccan team has been in Cameroon since January 2, making them one of the first to arrive there. Finally, I recall that the last time the CAN took place in Cameroon, it was won by Morocco.

In the last FIFA Arab Cup, Morocco and Algeria met in the quarter-finals [match remporté par les Fennecs aux tirs aux buts]. There were testimonies of brotherhood between players and supporters, but the event did not escape political appropriation. Has football become hostage to political tensions between you and your neighbour?

It all depends on the maturity of the states. The kingdom of Morocco has more than twelve centuries of history, and we are far from these logics. Football is football.

The president of the Algerian Federation and his coach, present in Marrakech, were very clear: football is football

Long before this match, the Algerian team faced Burkina Faso in the best conditions in Marrakech. The president of the Algerian Federation and his coach were very clear: football is football. The rest is politics.

For the Arab Cup, we have chosen to call on local players. Other teams preferred to field Team A. Penalties, as everyone knows, are pure luck. This smiled on the Algerian team, congratulations to them. The most important thing is that we can play our best game and bring honor to African football.

CAF has recently experienced several scandals, including sexual scandals within the Gabonese federation, which have damaged the image of African football. As second vice-president of the institution, how do you intend to tackle these problems and restore the image of the continent on the international sports scene?

I do not know the details of this affair, but my conviction is simple and clear: only the development and establishment of infrastructures, the promotion of women’s football, the integration of young people and the recognition of football as a vector of social inclusion will allow the African football to shine. We need a Marshall Plan for infrastructure development.

The last CAN organized in Morocco dates back to 1988. When is the next time?

I don’t know, I hope as soon as possible.

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