FIFA candidates make late push for African vote

Tokyo Sexwale
Tokyo Sexwale

Kigali - FIFA presidential candidates made a late push on Friday for support in Africa, the confederation with the largest number of votes in this month's election.

The Confederation of African Football is holding an executive committee meeting at a hotel in Kigali, and may follow that with a public pledge of support for one of the five men hoping to succeed Sepp Blatter on Feb. 26.

CAF has 54 voting member countries, one more than UEFA, and represents a crucial bloc. CAF has so far not publicly backed any candidate.

Four of the candidates, UEFA secretary general Gianni Infantino, Asian Football Confederation head Sheikh Salman of Bahrain, France's Jerome Champagne, and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale, were campaigning in Kigali. Former FIFA vice president Prince Ali of Jordan was expected to arrive later Friday.

Infantino and Sheikh Salman, the strongest contenders to win the presidency of the scandal-rocked world soccer body, are expected to receive significant support from their home continents of Europe and Asia respectively, leaving Africa as a possible clinching bloc of votes.

"I have my principles and want to change football if voted into office as FIFA president," Infantino said at the five-star Serena Hotel where CAF's top executives were meeting.

Infantino has campaigned widely in Africa, posting regularly on social media as he watched international games in countries like Madagascar and Senegal, caught a flight and took selfies with the Gabon team, and when he met last month with Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Sheikh Salman's campaign has been less visible, although in a possibly significant development, his Asian confederation signed a co-operation agreement with CAF last month. The move was criticized by opponent Prince Ali as an attempt by Salman to win African votes against FIFA election rules.

Although CAF alone can't win the election for any of the candidates, it could lose it for one: Sexwale.

The only African in the field, the South African mining tycoon has failed so far to win over his home continent, and could be forced to withdraw if it's clear that he doesn't even have Africa's support.

The South African Football Association met Sexwale this week over his lacklustre campaign, and said it was delaying a decision over whether his campaign should be called off until after CAF's meeting.

Sexwale didn't comment to a reporter at Serena Hotel as he rushed to a meeting.

"I will speak to you later when I am more settled," he said.

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