On Feb. 26, FIFA, the world’s soccer governing body will hold elections to elect a new president to replace Sepp Blatter. The chances that the new president will come from Africa have now been pretty much erased. At a meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, the executive committee of the Africa’s soccer governing body, Confederation of African Football (CAF), chose to nominate Sheikh Salman, a member of the Bahrain royal family and the favorite of five candidates, as its preferred candidate in the elections. This means all football associations in Africa will likely vote for Sheikh Salman at the elections in Zurich.
Well, all but one.
South Africa will still vote for its candidate, Tokyo Sexwale, whose chances of winning the polls have been pretty much wiped out. Sexwale had been hoping to build his bid on the back of support from the African soccer confederation and now has to seek support elsewhere to keep his presidential campaign going. But while everyone thinks the blow of CAF’s endorsement of an Asian candidate will mean an end to Sexwale’s bid to become FIFA president, the South African is refusing to give up and is hoping he can still sway some African votes.
“[The decision] is just the CAF executive committee decision and not the 54 associations that make up the continent. I still believe I can win the election come 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.”
Africa, being FIFA’s largest voting bloc with 54 confederations, can be crucial during the elections as candidates require two-thirds of the votes to win on the first ballot after which a simple majority secures victory.
Sheikh Salman’s endorsement by CAF does not entirely come as a surprise. Prince Ali, another candidate, has already written to FIFA raising questions that a recent four-year agreement between the African and Asian football confederations which is said to be aimed at driving ‘development of football in the two confederations’, is, in fact, a front for engineering a ‘bloc vote’ for Sheikh Salman.
Even though Sexwale might not make history as the first African to be elected FIFA president (Issa Hayatou of Cameroon has been interim FIFA president since last October), a win for Sheikh Salman will be historic all the same. Salman, should he win, will be the first president to emerge from a different continent asides Europe and South America since 1904 when FIFA was set up. Of the eight presidents so far, seven have been Europeans and Brazil’s Joao Havelenge, who served between 1974 and 1998, remains the only non-European FIFA president in history.