7 November 2015

Africa: From Inmate to Candidate - Sexwale Vies for FIFA Top Job

Photo: http://www.spinmedia.co.za
South African businessman and aspirant for president, Tokyo Sexwale

Sexwale gets nods from Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mozambique and SA, but Zambia, Botswana and Namibia not keen to see him lead Fifa.

It is very unlikely that Tokyo Sexwale needs an introduction. He is a South African businessman vying for the Federation of International Football Associations (Fifa) presidency.

His story is clout-enhancing. He was born and raised in Soweto, where the tall grasses of the liberation struggle beckoned as soon as he left high school. And so by the way were the open arms of the apartheid regime that ushered him straight to Robben Island upon his return from exile. Alongside other notables, he was confined to suffer on this bleak quarry isolated by shark-infested waters, but close enough to offer glimpses of affluent Cape Town and induce the kind of longing for freedom that can inflict a pain more lingering than any kind of physical punishment.

These men must have despaired at the mercilessness of it all. But in the typical adaptable nature of the human spirit, or just because they were bored by the monotony of prison routine, some of the inmates came up with an idea of a football league.

They made teams and rules, appointed referees to execute them, and even elected a governing federation to supervise all this. At a time when even the most minimal things were considered a privilege to men of color, the inmates started off by playing football with pieces of cloth wound together, in tiny dormitory-like cells, after lights-out.

Eventually they gathered the courage to move out and so the Makana F.A became recognized by the authorities. Sexwale was its first and only Secretary General.

The appeal of this story, an inspiration for books and films, is unparalleled in the world football and unsurprisingly the basis of Sexwale's campaign for Fifa presidency.

He bases his readiness on the experience of running football behind enemy lines.

He isn't a fresh face either because when Fifa wanted to address the issue of racism they turned to its most notable victim - Sexwale. I must also add that he isn't left untouched by the rot in Fifa either courtesy of his association with Fifa World Cup in South Africa 2010.

So while Robben Island maybe far removed from the gloss of Zurich, Sexwale is no political novice and he strikes me as the kind of smooth operator that would thrive in the fluid politics of football.

Upon leaving jail for instance, he was viewed as the natural successor to Nelson Mandela. But he gave up politics and branched into business. People like him know what works and what doesn't.

It doesn't surprise many that he is a billionaire either. People like him know how to exploit the opportunities that their status presents.

I therefore have no doubt he would win on ideal value alone.

But like he will discover football is more complicated than the romance of outliving apartheid.

In Fifa-politics there are few clear cut beginnings and ends.

So Sepp Blatters' dismissal will not necessarily usher in new people, but most likely part of the older clique whose networks are necessary to ensure continuity.

And maybe Fifa is not yet ready for a revolutionary.


Tokyo Sexwale. Invited to deliver the keynote address to the ICSS Securing Sport conference in New York, in front of an expert audience, the 64-year-old South African missed a diamond-bright opportunity to seize the initiative.He could have set out his agenda, an action plan for his first 100 days if elected next February 26. Even if Sexwale thought this might be too early in the four-month campaign he could have dropped some intriguing hints and invited his audience to await, with expectancy, his manifesto with a strategy to rescue the world federation from drowning in a stormy sea of its own creation. He did neither.

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