Liam Morgan ©ITG

It is sometime in January 2015 and I am being informed where I will be heading for my first trip abroad for insidethegames.

"We are sending you to Rwanda to cover the International Africa Sports Convention in March," I am told.

Eight weeks or so pass by and I then fly out to Kigali to delve into the murky world of African sports politics.

During the conference in the Rwandan capital, attended by a vast spectrum of sporting officials in the region, including then International Association of Athletics Federations President Lamine Diack, one issue seemed to dominate the agenda more than any other - the All-Africa Games in Brazzaville.

In the months leading up to the event, which were scheduled to take place in September, a row between the Association of National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA) and the African Union Sports Council (AUSC) over who exactly owned the Games threatened to derail it entirely.

The bitter dispute cost the Games the chance to serve as an Olympic qualifier for Rio 2016 and further diminished the event’s profile, which at that point was already at an all-time low.

The Games in the Congolese capital went ahead as planned but attracted little coverage outside of Africa and passed by with barely a whimper. Who even remembers it happened?

Few top athletes attended, mainly because, as one African writer put it, "it was not worth their time".

A row between ANOCA and the AUSC threatened to derail the 2015 All-Africa Games in Brazzaville ©Getty Images
A row between ANOCA and the AUSC threatened to derail the 2015 All-Africa Games in Brazzaville ©Getty Images

Fast forward to August 2017 and the same division, the same impasse is continuing, this time over the ownership of the 2019 Games in Equatorial Guinea.

It is likely that the event will follow the same pattern as the edition in Brazzaville four years previously. Scarce interest, barely any coverage and nothing really at stake.

It is likely that it will be more of an embarrassment than an event which will energise African sport.

Those in the sporting corridors in the continent, tasked with helping rather than hindering development across Africa, only have themselves to blame.

ANOCA may be one of the main antagonists at the centre of the issue but they have much more pressing problems which must be dealt with before they can even consider plans for hosting a major event few hold in high regard.

A campaign, spearheaded by Djibouti, has recently been launched in a bid to hold a new Presidential election following the General Assembly in May which cast African sports governance in a negative light once again.

Djibouti and several others dispute the result, where incumbent Lassana Palenfo was re-elected by acclamation after challenger Hamad Kalkaba Malboum was barred from standing by the ANOCA Executive Committee.

Cue conspiracy theories and claims that this was an orchestrated plot to ensure Palenfo, first chosen for the role in 2005, would not face any opposition and would glide into another term at the helm.

Malboum's accreditation for the event was revoked by ANOCA’s ruling body after he was accused of illegally using the Government in Cameroon to campaign on his behalf, accusations he vehemently denies.

Lassana Palenfo was re-elected ANOCA President by acclamation in May but the result of the elections caused controversy ©Getty Images
Lassana Palenfo was re-elected ANOCA President by acclamation in May but the result of the elections caused controversy ©Getty Images

It has since emerged that Malboum was referred to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Ethics Commission, who refused to intervene and essentially said it was ANOCA’s mess to sort out.

This decision, it is claimed, was not communicated to the wider ANOCA membership, prompting Djibouti National Olympic Committee (CNOSD) President Aicha Garad Ali to write a letter to the continental body proposing an Extraordinary General Assembly be held in Prague in November to rectify the situation.

In the letter, Ali, who is herself an IOC member, claims the General Assembly was not “allowed the opportunity to exercise its statutory rights” and therefore a new election should be held.

With support for their proposal growing – they need two-thirds of ANOCA’s 54 members to succeed - the organisation is facing yet another crisis. 

Some might reasonably argue they have always been in a state of crisis.

Should the campaign receive the required backing, ANOCA’s membership could be heading back to the polls just six months after electing a President. What does that say about the governance of the organisation? And what message does it send out?

For a start, it is hardly going to solicit confidence from the rest of the sporting world that ANOCA and African sport are getting their act together because, quite frankly, they are not.

It must be said that Djibouti’s reasons remain unclear. They might claim it was because they and other ANOCA members were denied the opportunity to exercise their statutory rights but, as is often the case in these kind of scenarios, there is usually always an underlying motive.

On the surface at least, it would suggest they have grown tiresome of the Palenfo regime and want fresh, new blood to reinvigorate African sport and haul itself from the mire.

This comes despite the fact they were among those to clap the Ivorian back into office in Djibouti in May.

Hamad Kalkaba Malboum was barred from standing as a candidate for the ANOCA Presidency in May ©Getty Images
Hamad Kalkaba Malboum was barred from standing as a candidate for the ANOCA Presidency in May ©Getty Images

Rumblings of discontent have surfaced recently after there were no Africans on the proposed list of IOC members, who will officially become part of sport’s most exclusive club later this month. It is believed many feel Palenfo is to blame for this.

But it would appear Kalkaba is not a viable option either. Having been barred from standing once, he is unlikely to be the one the General Assembly want to take the organisation forward.

After all, ANOCA has been stagnant for some time now. Yes, they are often the easy target and the continent’s financial difficulties are clear but they have no excuse for falling as far behind their counterparts as they have done.

Take the Pan American Sports Organization, for example. After the death of President Mario Vazquez-Rana in February 2015, the continental body were going nowhere and could not even agree when his permanent replacement would be chosen.

Interim head Julio Maglione was initially due to serve for one year before that became two. Eventually, following a long and arduous process, Chile’s Neven Ilic was elected PASO President in April.

Since his victory, Ilic has started to professionalise an organisation which, as my colleague Nick Butler wrote earlier this year, was in desperate need of a shake-up.

Even what some might see as less important aspects, such as communications and dealing with media, have improved greatly in a short space of time.

The latter element is certainly something which ANOCA can take on board. Palenfo is barely visible in international sporting circles these days and is clearly not doing enough to promote his continent to the world.

ANOCA can learn a lot from the recent changes at PASO under new President Neven Ilic ©PASO
ANOCA can learn a lot from the recent changes at PASO under new President Neven Ilic ©PASO

Perhaps ANOCA can use PASO as an example of how change can be done for the better, and maybe a new election, with new candidates, is the best way to go about it.

At this stage, it would be pure speculation to suggest potential successors to Palenfo. 

But you can bet your bottom dollar those interested in taking over should it get that far are already plotting, scheming and lobbying behind the scenes in the increasingly divisive world of sports governance in Africa.