By Mark Gleeson
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Winds of change gusted through African soccer on Thursday as Ahmad of Madagascar was voted in as the new Confederation of African Football president, ending the 29-year reign of Issa Hayatou in an election in the Ethiopian capital.
The 34-20 vote was a decisive rejection of the 70-year-old incumbent from Cameroon, who had been seeking an eighth term to take his leadership of the African game into a fourth decade.
Ahmad, 57, a former government minister who goes by just a single name, emerged as a surprise candidate late last year and was initially given little chance of unseating Hayatou, who has ruled over African soccer since 1988.
"With much emotion I thank all those who have believed in the change. Thanks to you who were always behind me. We have done it. This victory is ours. This is a victory for Africa,” Ahmad posted on his Facebook page (Ahmad CAF 2017) from his seat on the podium shortly after being voted in.
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Ahmad, who has previously served as minister of sport and of fisheries in Madagascar, was borne on the shoulders of boisterous supporters after the result was announced, while a tired-looking Hayatou seemed stunned.
However, following on radical changes in FIFA over the last year and with a growing number of younger presidents of African soccer federations, there has been an increased desire for a fresh face at the helm of the African game.
Ahmad had promised an increase in financial support for African associations, business class travel to future Congresses for all delegates and to be more open to suggestions from member associations. His term is for four years.
Ahmad gave a rousing speech before the lengthy voting process began, while Hayatou did not take up the opportunity to address the congress.
Hayatou's allies, also stunned by the result, suggested he had been blindsided by many of his former close colleagues but had also been too confident of victory.
"Too many people told him he’d win easily and he believed them,' a senior CAF official told Reuters.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino was also in Addis Ababa to witness Ahmad's upset win.
Infantino made no public pronouncements ahead of the contest, though he had emerged as a potential kingmaker when he attended a function in Zimbabwe last month in what was seen as a sign of support for Ahmad.
Infantino has quickly won favor in Africa by increasing the size of future World Cup and financial grants to member countries.
As an immediate consequence of Hayatou’s defeat, his senior vice president Suketu Patel of the Seychelles pulled out of his bid to win re-election to the organization's executive committee, leaving CAF without its influential financial chief.
Some other powerful committee figures were voted off the executive committee, including Mohamed Raoraoua of Algeria and Amadou Diakite of Mali. Danny Jordaan of South Africa, who ran the 2010 World Cup, was elected to the committee.
(Reporting by Mark Gleeson; Editing by Gareth Jones)