As the scene of some of the most dramatic footballing triumphs in African football history, it seemed fitting that the cavernous Cairo International stadium should play host to the Confederation of African Football (CAF) at the start of its 50th anniversary celebrations. It was there, yesterday, that five-time continental champions Egypt met Sweden in a friendly international, winning 2-0 , to kick off a heady year of celebration and reflection for the African game.
The CAF has announced that it will use all four of its four founder countries to mark the milestone, hosting matches in Egypt and Ethiopia and discussions in South Africa and Sudan. The birthday itself is celebrated today, 8 February, the date on which the first CAF Congress took place in Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, a half-century ago. The years since have seen the organization swell to encompass 53 member countries, and every one will be represented this weekend as the CAF returns to Khartoum for its latest congress.
Later, on 18 February, the third leg of the celebrations will be held in Addis Ababa when the African Super Cup is hosted in the altitude of the Ethiopian capital. The mach features Egypt's CAF Champions League winners, Al Ahly , against Tunisian club Etoile Sahel, who won the 2006 African Confederation Cup a year on from losing heavily to Ahly in the 2005 Champions League final.
The anniversary celebrations will subsequently be completed in October with a gala dinner in Johannesburg, which will also be the venue for a week-long round of meetings of the organisation's standing committees.
Fight against apartheid
The CAF's formation followed FIFA's decision in 1953 to modify its structure and appoint regional representatives to the Executive Committee. The four African members at the time met on the fringes on the 30th FIFA Congress in Lisbon, Portugal in 1956 to agree on the creation of a continental body and the launch of the first-ever Africa Cup of Nations.
A year later, at the Grand Hotel in Khartoum, statutes were adopted and regulations decided upon as representatives of the four countries created the CAF, appointing Abdelaziz Abdallah Salem of Egypt as its first president. South Africa failed to send a team to that year's Cup of Nations, also in Khartoum, leaving Egypt to become the first African champions. The Egyptians are, of course, also the reigning kings of their continent after hosting, and winning, the 2006 African Nations Cup finals.
FIFA approved the CAF's statutes at its Executive Committee meeting in Zurich in 1957, including a stipulation that the headquarters of the organisation reside in the same city as the president, handing Cairo the honour of becoming the seat of African football. A year later, another Egyptian, General Abdelaziz Mostafa, succeeded Abdallah Salem as the organisation's president, and in 1961 Mourad Fahmy became its general secretary, a post he held for more than two decades.
The membership of the CAF grew quickly along with the winds of changes blowing across Africa as independence was handed to the myriad of colonies, and the organisation has continued to welcome new members over the decades, with the Comoros Islands accepted only last year as its 53rd member. In its official history, the CAF describes the "unity of African football" as its greatest achievement, referring specifically to the fight against apartheid and the acceptance of South Africa back into its ranks in 1992.
South Africa will, of course, become the first African nation to host the FIFA World Cup™ finals in 2010 , giving African football another reason to celebrate on this special anniversary.