South African billionaire businessman and anti-apartheid activist,Tokyo Sexwale, has one in five chances of leading the largest sports organisation in the world and becoming the 9th president of world football governing body, FIFA.
- FIFA will elect a new president on February 26 following Blatter’s decision in June to step down amid corruption probes into the world soccer body by American and Swiss investigators
- Sexwale is one of five contenders approved by FIFA to contest the presidency of the global soccer organisation
- UEFA President Michel Platini, who was previously the favourite to win the election, has been provisionally suspended along with Blatter, for 90 days by Fifa’s ethics committee over a payment of 2-million Swiss francs (about $2m) Blatter made to Platini in 2011
- Other contenders are Former FIFA General Secretary Jerome Champagne, UEFA General Secretary Gianno Infantino, FIFA Vice President Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, and President of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) since 2013, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa
FIFA approved five candidates for its February presidential election to replace 79-year-old Sepp Blatter amid the worst crisis in its history.
The candidates announced by the electoral committee were Fifa Vice President between 2011 and 2015 Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain, former FIFA General Secretary Jerome Champagne of France, UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino of Switzerland and South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale.
FIFA had already announced that it would not process UEFA President and former French international football star Michel Platini, provisionally suspended along with Blatter, for 90 days by FIFA’s ethics committee over a payment of 2-million Swiss francs (about $2m) Blatter made to Platini in 2011, but could review its position if he won an appeal against the ban.
FIFA would need a fairly untainted leader in view of the spate of scandals it has recently faced. Therefore, the ethics committee conducted integrity checks on all aspirants before the approvals.
“The integrity check included a review of corporate records, litigation cases, bankruptcy proceedings, potential regulatory actions taken against the candidate and a review of media reports concerning potential red flags (fraudulent behavior, match manipulation, human rights violations, etc.),” the committee said in a statement.
Apparently, there are no clear favorites to win the election in which each of the 209 national associations (FAs) affiliated with FIFA hold one vote.
Critics say they are heavily influenced by the continental confederations, such as Europe’s UEFA or Africa’s CAF, which sometimes ask their members to vote as a bloc for one candidate. But as voting is secret, FAs can easily disobey their confederations without being detected, which makes voting unpredictable.
The contenders and their chances
- Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa
President of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) since 2013, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa comes with some controversy. Human rights activists want him disqualified, accusing him of crimes against humanity. But Salman has dismissed as “false, nasty lies” allegations that he was involved in human rights abuses against pro-democracy activists during a 2011 uprising in Bahrain when he was head of the Gulf Arab country’s football association.
The electoral committee said it had “assessed any allegations against the candidates carefully, including those against Sheikh Salman concerning his alleged involvement in the events in Bahrain in 2011”.
It said no evidence of “any personal and direct involvement” by Salman in rights abuses had been found, so the committee had upheld his candidacy.
A former Blatter ally and powerful voice within world football, he should be confident in securing the votes of the 46 federations that make up the AFC and some European nations that encouraged him to stand.
Former FIFA Deputy General Secretary Jerome Champagne is already campaigning, sending a seven-page manifesto to all 209 member associations outlining how he would transform world football’s governing body. This includes cutting the number of World Cup places for European nations, more development projects in poorer nations and greater transparency in how it does business, such as publishing the organisation’s accounts and revealing the salaries of top officials.
The former French diplomat also campaigned in the presidential election held in May but did not get the backing of five national associations. This time around, he claims to have eight supporting him. Despite his extensive knowledge of how FIFA operates after 11 years of working there and some bright ideas, he may struggle to find support from beyond Europe and his past work with FIFA means the French man may not escape unscathed.
Gianno Infantino may emerge as the major threat to Sexwale’s dream. As UEFA General Secretary, the Swiss-born lawyer undoubtedly has the backing of one of the largest associations in the game.
Last month, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, one of the top powerbrokers in global sport and a member of FIFA’s executive committee, said he hoped there would be “coordination” between Infantino and Sheikh Salman if Platini was unable to run.
He is the standard-bearer for European interests and will make FIFA reform a central part of his campaign. Following Michel Platini’s fate, UEFA was determined to put forward its own candidate, and Infantino, the Frenchman’s right-hand man, was chosen following an emergency teleconference of its executive committee.
“If elected I would lead that change in partnership with all who want to see a Fifa worthy of governing the world’s number one sport with dignity and respect,” Gianni declared.
“We are delighted that Gianni has agreed to stand and he knows that he has our full support in his campaign to become FIFA president,” UEFA said in a statement.
Gianni is no infant in soccer administration. A qualified lawyer, Infantino has been with European football’s governing body since 2000, working in a number of roles. The 45-year-old knows the European game inside and out, which ironically may count against him as he attempts to woo other nations beyond the continent.
He is expected to focus on South America’s CONMEBOL confederation and CONCACAF, which represents North, Central American and Caribbean federations, where he is likely to be well-received.
Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, FIFA Vice President between 2011 and 2015, is undoubtedly one of Sexwale’s toughest challengers. He was a sole challenger to Blatter in the election earlier this year. Prince Ali got 73 votes to Blatter’s 133 before withdrawing in the second round of voting.
He comes into the race with a lot of confidence.
“Ten months ago, I was the only person who dared to challenge Mr Blatter for the Presidency of Fifa. I ran because I believe that Fifa needs change. And I had the courage to fight for change when others were afraid. I conceded that election not because I was not the best candidate, but because others were using me to make room for themselves. They didn’t have the guts to run, but I did,” he said of the May election.
However, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein has yet to receive public backing from Asia and Africa. For some reason, the world football family has not taken to the Jordanian prince, despite his impeccable connections within the game and reputation as a reformer.
In May’s election, he lost to Blatter despite mounting an aggressive and vigorous campaign that saw him travelling the world in an attempt to convince football administrators that he was the man for the top job.
Al Hussein could not even count on the backing of his own Asian confederation and made few inroads into winning over African football.
Champagne’s candidacy could put a further dent on his support base.
- Tokyo Sexwale
Tokyo Sexwale announced his intention to run in next year’s emergency election to replace Sepp Blatter after receiving the endorsement of the South Africa Football Association (SAFA)
If supported by Africa’s 53 other FIFA member countries, he will gain a significant boost in the contest to head the world’s most popular sport.
“I will not disappoint you,” he told reporters after his declaration.
“The brand of Fifa is severely damaged today following various scandals and other allegations that we are hearing about; It needs to be restored,” Sexwale said.
The 62-year-old Sexwale’s varied credentials include being a current Fifa anti-racism adviser and being a host on South Africa’s version of The Apprentice reality show.
He is also a successful businessman with interests in the mining and energy sectors, and whose wealth has been estimated at $200-million (R2.7billion).
Sexwale is a relative football outsider who has the right balance between experience in the business world and the inner workings of the game. More importantly, he is not viewed as somebody who is strongly associated with any camp.
As well as working on FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force, Sexwale has mediated for Fifa in the dispute between the Israeli and Palestinian soccer federations, a diplomacy mission given to him by Blatter. He served on the organising committee for South Africa’s 2010 World Cup.
He also comes with political clout. He was imprisoned on Robben Island for 13 years, some of them alongside Nelson Mandela, for fighting against apartheid. He was a founding member of the Makana FA, the unofficial football organisation for apartheid-era prisoners on Robben Island. He became a close confidante of Mandela, who died in 2013.
Released from prison in 1990, Sexwale served as a cabinet minister after South Africa’s shift to democracy and at one time held ambitions of becoming the country’s president.
In the midst of the tough competition he faces and despite the the fact that he is the only candidate not to have led his country’s football federation, Sexwale definitely has his eyes on the ball and has more than a clear shot at the trophy.
He could emerge as the first black president of football’s world governing body should Africa, FIFA’s largest continental confederation with 54 national voting associations, give him total support.
NP/eNCA/ESPN FC/BBC Sport