20 February 2016

Africa: FIFA Presidency - No Love for Sexwale

The odds seem heavily stacked against Africa's sole candidate for the Fifa presidency race, Tokyo Sexwale.

The former South African Cabinet minister has had a low key campaign, forcing Africa (at least the delegates representing the various regional football associations) to turn its back on him ahead of the February 26 elections in Zurich, Switzerland.

Just about a week after the Confederation of African Football (CAF) announced its decision -- at the CHAN tournament in Kigali, Rwanda -- to back Asian football leader Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa of Bahrain, South Africa's neighbour Botswana also made it clear they will not support Sexwale.

Revered Botswana sports editor Mqondisi Dube said: "The Botswana FA has seen how wishy-washy Sexwale's campaign has been and has made it clear he is not their man in the upcoming election."

Another of South Africa's neighbours, Zimbabwe, also looks unlikely to back him.

A football columnist in Zimbabwe, Mkhululi Khabo, revealed that the Zimbabwe Football Association's new president, Philip Chiyangwa, just returned from Asia where he is said to have met the Jordanian candidate for the Fifa presidency, Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein, 39, of Jordan.

"No-one knows what he was promised. Remember, Prince Ali is a man who likes maximising on opportunities. On the other hand, Tokyo has even failed to visit the four associations that nominated him just to say thank you," said Khabo.

He added: "Fifa elections are always dirty, clouded with bribery allegations and most African football leaders are bound to sell their vote to the man with the highest 'bid.'"

Sexwale had hoped on riding on Africa's patronage, but has to look beyond the continent to keep his hopes alive.

Africa has Fifa's largest voting bloc with 54 football associations, while Europe has 53, Asia 46, Concacaf, the North, Central American and Caribbean confederation has 35, Oceania 11 and South America 10.

Top football analysts on the continent believe the South African millionaire businessman's biggest mistake was cold-shouldering Africa's premier football awards in Abuja, Nigeria last month, choosing instead to attend the Ballon d'Or ceremony in Zurich. He was also absent at the West African Football Union Congress in Accra, Ghana, a meeting attended by the other Fifa presidential candidates.

Renowned African football analyst Thomas Kwenaite believes Sexwale's Africa campaign was poorly articulated. He says missing continental football events has "cost him dearly."

"Tokyo should have consolidated Africa as his base, it was a bit embarrassing to hear that Africa is not going to vote him because he did not do enough," Kwenaite told The EastAfrican.

Controversial Ivorian football analyst Mamadou Gaye also says Sexwale missed it when he chose to attend the Ballon D'or "which is a party" when all other candidates were in Accra.

"African football leaders are saying 'What's going on with him? He must not take us for granted. He must come to us and tell us what he wants to do in football instead of going around using Nelson Mandela's name, that he spent time with him in jail,'" Gaye said.

But the former Robben Island detainee has remained unfazed by Africa's snub. "I still believe I can win the election come the 26th of this month in Zurich," Sexwale said.

"There are 54 associations from this continent, many of which will make their own choices. And those associations have got every reason to make their votes," he added.

Sexwale does not boast of a vast football CV and the closest he has come to the world's most beautiful game was sitting on Fifa's anti-racism committee. He, however, has some eye-catching proposals. The one that could easily seize the attention of football leaders is to allow national teams to wear sponsors' names on their shirts at an expanded World Cup tournament.

Shirt sponsorship became widespread in the club game in the 1980s but Fifa has not allowed deals for national team jerseys in competitive games. He also promised an "open door policy" to national associations and to allow stakeholders easier access to the Fifa president.

Sexwale highlighted the imbalances in representation at World Cups among regional confederations. Europe, which has 53 football associations, has 13 World Cup slots while Africa, with 54 members, has just five.

All-encompassing as his proposals sound, Kwenaite is convinced Sexwale has not done enough to sell those ideas.

Sexwale will be buoyed by South African Minister of Sports and Recreation Fikile Mbalula's backing.

Mbalula says it is normal that Sexwale's campaign has hit "highs and lows" but remains upbeat the former human settlements minister will come right. "Comrade Tokyo's decision to raise his hand is an act of courage and not disdain. Election campaigns are by their very nature rough and tumble, inevitably robust and fluid," said Mbalula.

On the other hand, Kwenaite is convinced no African will ever ascend to the highest position in world football.

"African countries were always colonies and when Fifa was formed, Africa was not even considered as part of the global game," he says.

Decades after the end of colonialism, Kwenaite feels nothing has changed in world football, as Africa still plays second fiddle. "The situation is such that it will be very difficult for Africa to get a representative to ascend to the highest position in world football," he said.

It remains to be seen whether an African leader will rise one day to run the world's football governing body. But, for now, Africa's "hope' continues to dwindle by the day as Sexwale has failed to capture the imagination of the football world with his ideas.

Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa, 50, Bahrain

Sheikh Salman has been involved in football dating back to the 1980s when he played in the youth team of Bahrain Division I team, Riffa Club.

In 1996, he was appointed chairman of the national team, elected vice president two years later and eventually became Bahrain Football Association's president in 2002.

He led what came to be known as the "golden era" of Bahraini football. The national team came to a match away from qualifying for the 2006 Fifa World Cup and 2010 Fifa World Cup. It also attained its highest Fifa ranking then, moving up to 44th position.

He has also served as the co-chairman of the disciplinary committee at several Fifa tournaments such as the Fifa World Cups and Fifa Club Championships. He was also deputy chairman of the Fifa Disciplinary Committee at the Olympic Games of 2004 and 2008.

Sheikh Salman, who has been the Asian Football Confederation president since 2013, was elected one of Fifa eight vice-presidents in 2015. He is the cousin of the King of Bahrain, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

He is the most senior of the candidates currently allowed to run hence the favourite, especially after passing Fifa's integrity check, despite allegations against him of "complicity in crimes against humanity" for allegedly heading a committee that identified 150 athletes, including international footballers, involved in pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011, many of whom were later imprisoned and tortured. He has denied the allegations.

Sheikh Salman has quelled infighting within the Bahrain association since becoming president in 2013 but he is alleged to have helped suppress an independent report on corruption in the association.

Prince Ali bin Al-Hussein, 39, Jordan

Prince Ali, the third son of King Hussein of Jordan, is president of the Jordan Football Association. He is also the founder and president of the West Asian Football Federation, and under his presidency the membership has increased to 13 countries.

Prince Ali won the election for the position of Fifa vice president, representing Asia in 2011. As Fifa vice president, Prince Ali served as a member of the Fifa Executive Committee.

Prince Ali lost the 2015 Fifa presidential election to Sepp Blatter after resigning before second-round voting took place. He is credited with leading a campaign for reform within Fifa before and after being ousted as vice-president. He also helped overturn the ban on the hijab in football and has been openly critical of Blatter.

In September 2015, Prince Ali announced his candidacy for the Fifa presidential election following Blatter's resignation amid corruption allegations. However, he lacks support among world football's power brokers and he does not have the backing of his own confederation.

Additional reporting by Silas Ayumba.

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