GENEVA – Aiming to end FIFA’s “nightmare,” former Robben Island inmate and presidential candidate Tokyo Sexwale will travel to Egypt on Tuesday to campaign for support from African soccer leaders.
Africa’s 54 votes — the largest confederation in FIFA — is critical to the South African mining tycoon’s chances of replacing Sepp Blatter as FIFA president.
Sexwale, a former apartheid-era political prisoner alongside Nelson Mandela, will make a presentation to African soccer executives on the second day of their two-day meeting in Cairo on Wednesday.
The multi-millionaire businessman was making the campaign trip following an invitation from African soccer confederation president Issa Hayatou — the interim FIFA president.
“I briefed him about my candidacy,” Sexwale said of his meeting last week with Hayatou in Zurich. “He said, ‘Fine. You are free to come and make your presentation.'”
Sexwale is one of eight men to submit papers by Monday’s deadline to stand in the emergency FIFA presidential election on Feb. 26. The others are: UEFA President Michel Platini; Platini’s right-hand man, Gianni Infantino; Asian soccer confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa; Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan; former FIFA official Jerome Champagne; Liberian soccer official Musa Bility; and David Nakhid, a former player from Trinidad and Tobago.
Contenders must be nominated by at least five national associations and show an active role in soccer in two of the last five years. Candidates will also face ethics checks.
FIFA was validating the nomination papers on Tuesday. Ethics prosecutor Cornel Borbely will oversee the integrity checks and then send the files to the ad-hoc election committee chaired by Domenico Scala, who will release an official candidate list next month.
The 62-year-old Sexwale, a current FIFA anti-racism adviser who was appointed by Blatter to also mediate between the Israeli and Palestinian soccer bodies, said at a Johannesburg news conference that the situation at FIFA was “beyond worrying.”
“It’s a nightmare now,” Sexwale said, referring to corruption probes by U.S. and Swiss authorities that initially prompted Blatter’s resignation, and the later FIFA ethics investigation that led to the suspensions of Blatter and Platini.
“They are now calling it the biggest criminal organization in the world,” Sexwale said. “What has been broken in FIFA is the inability to follow the money. Follow the money. It’s got traces. It’s got fingerprints.”
Sexwale was a member of the bid and the organizing committees for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which has also come under scrutiny in the American investigation into FIFA corruption.
U.S. authorities say South Africa paid bribes to secure the tournament and accuse two senior South African officials on the bid committee of facilitating those bribes. The officials have not been named and Sexwale has not been implicated.
The South African government admits giving $10 million to the Caribbean Football Union controlled by former FIFA vice-president Jack Warner, but says the money was intended for legitimate soccer development. Warner was banned from soccer for life by FIFA last month for repeated misconduct, including taking bribes.
“It doesn’t affect me as a candidate because I was not involved in the money,” Sexwale said Tuesday.
Sexwale’s starting point on his presidential campaign trail is now Cairo, where an official show of support would give the South African a significant boost.
Bility, the president of the Liberian soccer association, has said 25 African countries offered to nominate him. But he previously failed to gain an official endorsement from the influential Hayatou and the African confederation.
Imray reported from Somerset West, South Africa.