FIFA Elections Again: The Challenge for Tokyo Sexwale

The FIFA elections for the position of president will be held on 26 February 2016. A lot of controversy and drama has accompanied FIFA affairs in the past year. Candidates have declared their intention to compete for the top post in world football. Integrity checks have been done on candidates and some have been declared ineligible to stand for elections. As various candidates jostle for the FIFA presidency, Africa with 54 votes has a big say on who becomes the next FIFA President. Africa has its representative in this “dogfight” for the presidency.  In this contest, the winner takes it all. There are no two ways about it. Now, the big question is whether Africa is going back its own man or not. African voting at FIFA elections has not been characterized by a common vision and unity of purpose.

In 1998, Sepp Blatter defeated Lennart Johansson, the then Swedish football president of UEFA in the FIFA elections and football has never been the same. The Confederation of African Football (CAF) had declared that all African national football associations should vote for Johansson. However, some national associations rebelled and voted for Sepp Blatter who won by a landslide victory. Observers indicate that African countries who voted “the wrong way” were punished.  For example , Zimbabwe‘s right to host the 2000 Africa Cup of Nations  was taken away for the most flimsy of reasons as retribution for the country’s FA President who was believed to be an outspoken supporter of Blatter.

Tokyo Sexwale has a huge task on his hand of uniting the African voters at the FIFA Elections. He desperately needs African votes before he can think of campaigning to get votes from other countries. It is also important that African delegates rally behind their man. Tokyo Sexwale is a fighter. He has fought injustice, together with other leaders such as the late great Nelson Mandela (May His Dear Soul Rest in Eternal Peace) and won.  Having survived incarceration by the Apartheid government of South Africa to become a senior member of the first democratic government of that country is a truly remarkable journey. Nobody is perfect but for me, Tokyo ticks all the relevant boxes. However, he has his critics who have crawled out of the woodwork declaring him unfit for the position of president of FIFA. Everyone is entitled to his opinion. It is a free Africa. Whilst certain publications have punched holes in Tokyo’s candidature for this top post, candidates elsewhere are being propped up by unbridled flattering and positive coverage by the media in their country or regions.

Africa, and indeed, Southern Africa has a unique chance to have a person with high level credentials contesting for this prestigious position.  In related matter, UEFA’s Secretary Gianni Infantino has also thrown his name into the hat because his erstwhile boss, Michel Platini, is bogged down by a FIFA suspension over a €1.3 million disloyal payment he is alleged to have received from Sepp Blatter.  The entry of Infantino is indeed a statement of intent by UEFA, the richest continental confederation under FIFA. The organization is determined to maintain its stranglehold on world football.  However, these elections should not be a battle amongst continental federations but amongst high calibre individuals and leaders of the game. However, there is no escaping regional loyalties in these elections. It would be naïve for one to think, that European football federations will vote for a candidate from outside Europe simply because he/she is the best person for the job. There is no running away from the fact that UEFA wants to influence whatever happens at FIFA and preserve the hegemony in world football. The fact that he has not resigned his full-time position as UEFA Secretary General means that Infantino is just a pawn in this high level power chess game.

Football is now a global multi-billion dollar industry. It is not surprising that the battle to control the world body, FIFA, has become fierce and intense. Tokyo’s major battles and challenges lie within Africa and the Confederation of African Football (CAF). Asia does not seem to have an inspiring and powerful candidate at the moment. Furthermore, no one seems to take Jerome Champagne, another aspiring candidate from France, seriously.  With Platini unlikely to recover from his legal setbacks, it is most likely that battle lines will be drawn between Europe and Africa in the race for the FIFA presidency. Europe, led by UEFA, will always be ready for any challenge.  What about Africa?

If Tokyo Sexwale cannot be guaranteed votes from other regions in Africa, COSAFA should at least try to throw its weight behind its own. However, judging by the trials and tribulations of Southern Africans, Ismail Bhamjee and Dr. Danny Jordaan, in elections at COSAFA and CAF levels, even votes from COSAFA cannot be guaranteed for Tokyo Sexwale. That is how sad sports politics on the African continent sometimes is. It is certainly paints a gloomy picture for Tokyo in terms of garnering votes from Africa. However, if he has fought apartheid and succeeded, he can also tackle the FIFA elections head on. Win or lose, Sexwale, a self -made businessman, will remain an excellent ambassador for football and the fight against social injustice. It is certainly a far cry from fighting within the confines of Robben Island!

December 2015
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