Sexwale’s historic bid for Fifa presidency hits stormy waters
> Robson Sharuko
Harare – THE historic bid by multi-millionaire South African businessman, Tokyo Sexwale, to become the first substantive FIFA president – endorsed by German football legend Franz Beckenbauer – is being marred by doubts being expressed by some influential figures in the Rainbow Nation and a manifesto riddled with errors that suggest he doesn’t know the global organisation he wants to lead.
Kaizer Motaung, the powerful chairman of South Africa’s most popular football club, Kaizer Chiefs, ignited a storm when he cast doubt on Sexwale’s chances of winning the February 26 vote to succeed Sepp Blatter who was forced out of the most powerful job in football under a hurricane of corruption charges.
Motaung, a former decorated football star who went to the United States before returning home in 1970 to build a club that transformed itself into the most powerful force in South Africa, even believes that the next FIFA presidential elections will be won by a candidate from Asia.
“My own personal view is that we have to be very realistic and not raise our expectations too high. Number one for me … I don’t say he doesn’t understand football, but it’s an advantage if you come from a footballing setup, if you know the politics and dynamics of football, especially at that level where you are not dealing with just a local scenario but the entire world,” Motaung said in an interview with a South African radio station.
“The fact that he announced before that he already has support from countries like Germany, I think for me that was not a wise move on his part.
“He should have come home first to speak to SAFA and then SAFA carries him to CAF (Confederation of African Football), but it was the other way around. We obviously endorsed his candidacy, but he went to CAF at the 11th hour. It begs the question if CAF can support him.
“I see an Asian candidate winning it.”
Those who are backing Sexwale, a former anti-apartheid fighter who was an inmate with Nelson Mandela on the infamous Robben Island offshore prison complex before emerging out of jail to turn himself into one of the country’s richest people, believe that this is an unfortunate stab in the back of the man who hopes to become FIFA’s first substantive boss from this continent.
Jomo Sono, an iconic South African footballer who played alongside Brazilian legend Pele and New York Cosmos, said he was backing Sexwale in the battle for the FIFA presidency.
“I think the race will be between Jérôme Champagne and Tokyo, but I support Tokyo as a South African. FIFA needs a good manager with financial and political acumen. Tokyo has both,” Sono, who also owns a club that plays in the South African Premiership, told weekly Sunday newspaper, City Press.
“He should take Danny Jordaan, Irvin Khoza and Molefi Oliphant along.”
And Neil Tovey, who was the captain when Bafana Bafana lifted the Nations Cup on home soil in 1996, also said he was backing Sexwale in the race for the FIFA presidency.
“He is competing against some very powerful individuals but it would be great and wonderful for South Africa if he became FIFA president,” said Tovey while his former teammate, Phil Masinga, also backed Sexwale.
“As a matter of national importance, I endorse Mr Sexwale’s candidature … The man has been endorsed by SAFA and not an individual, as well as by other African and European countries.”
Sexwale is set to battle it out with Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein, Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa, Jerome Champagne, a former FIFA secretary-general, and Gianni Infantino, the UEFA secretary-general.
The South African tycoon released his manifesto recently but it has been criticised by some observers who believe that while it has its strengths, it exposes him as a man who doesn’t value attention to detail and, crucially, doesn’t know the kind of organisation that he is intending to lead.
There are some glaring mistakes, in the manifesto, including a part where Sexwale says that FIFA is an organisation that has 205 members, instead of 209, and his critics have jumped on that, suggesting that it’s a sign that the South African doesn’t know the organisation he wants to lead.
One of them is Piers Edwards, a specialist on African football, who has been a long-time correspondent for the BBC.
“Unfortunately, one thing that stands out is the manifesto’s poor grammar, spelling and inexcusable errors,” Edwards noted in an analysis of the manifesto.
“Real Madrid’s home is spelt as the Benebeau, not the Bernabeu, while the number of global FIFA members is sometimes said to be 205 but is the correct tally in other places (209).
“Elsewhere, the South American confederation is called both CONNEBOL (wrong) and CONMEBOL (right), while the same applies to Oceania (correct) and Oceana.
“It’s an attention to detail that Sexwale, seen by some as a football outsider, will need to improve if he is to persuade the football fraternity that he’s the best man to replace Blatter.”
And Edwards feels the South African could also anger some potential voters with his mission to ensure that there is advertising on the national football team jerseys.
All the above may be outshone by the fact that Sexwale has mooted the possibility of having advertising on national team jerseys,” the veteran journalist noted.
“This is a hugely controversial idea that is unlikely to sit well with global football fans, many of whom already believe the game’s sanctity has been sold out for money.
“National team jerseys are sacrosanct in many people’s eyes and should never stoop to having a sponsor. The suggestion may make economic sense but for a global organisation that makes billions of dollars, this prospect should never be on the table.
“While shirt sponsorship may be his most controversial idea, an army of fans may also rail against his suggestion to expand the World Cup from its current 32 teams.
“Many believe the World Cup is already too bloated, as a result of FIFA’s relentless drive to both win political votes (by enabling member states to have more World Cup slots to aim for) and increase the money earned through television and advertising – given that more games equals more advertising which equals more money for the corporate world.”