On paper, Tokyo Sexwale has all the leadership credentials one would want from a Fifa president. But with a governing body that has been engulfed in cronyism for so long, it might be hard to make the leap to independence. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.
While the core of Fifa continues to burn, the show must go on. There is a presidential election to think about next year and the candidates have thrown their hats into the ring. South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale joined the race over the weekend, just before the closing date. It did not come as a surprise; Sexwale was tipped as possible candidate back in July already.
Of all the candidates to stand for the Fifa presidency, Sexwale is arguably the most accomplished leader. From serving time on Robben Island during South Africa’s liberation struggle to being credited with bringing calm to a number of politically volatile townships, Sexwale has seen and done it all. His credentials as a statesman cannot be doubted, but it is his independence which could make his bid for the presidency difficult.
Fifa has previously preferred leaders who are already embedded and embroiled in the system, something Sexwale certainly is not. That is not to say that he lacks experience in football, though. He is currently serving as an adviser to Fifa and has been trusted with campaigning and leading on the more delicate situations the organisation has to deal with.
He currently advises Fifa on anti-racism matters and also helps Global Watch – an organisation which aims to rid sport of racism. Most recently he mediated for Fifa in the dispute between the Israeli and Palestinian federations. Sepp Blatter hand-picked Sexwale for this diplomatic mission. While Blatter is currently under investigation himself, he remains respected by many football heads around the globe. Blatter has done much for the game and the fact that Sexwale was handpicked by the Fifa boss for a task will go a long way when it comes to the presidential challenge.
Sexwale’s quest came somewhat late – just two days before the deadline – which means the charge to get the five nominations required to stand for the presidency would have had to happen quickly. The Daily Maverick spoke to South African Football Association communications manager Dominic Chimhavi on Monday, who said Sexwale had received “more than that already” – so the first hurdle has been cleared.
The potential sticking point is the ongoing investigation into corruption within Fifa. Sexwale also served on the 2010 World Cup organising committee, which makes his quest for the presidency not without irony. That World Cup is under investigation over the alleged buying of votes, but no names of any co-conspirators have been revealed yet. Sexwale’s name has not emerged on any of the signed letters authorising the payment of $10-million to the ‘Fifa Diaspora Fund’ and the investigation into South Africa’s alleged canoodling has been somewhat slow.
As things stand, South Africa’s man is in the clear, his credentials are solid and he could be exactly what world football needs to bring change. Somebody who is largely an outsider and independent – something which sponsors and Fifa backers have asked for on a number of occasions.
The real challenge for Sexwale will begin in earnest now and the biggest challenge will be ensuring he gets the backing of the African voting bloc – the biggest voting bloc in Fifa. With Michel Platini likely to be out of the race due to an ongoing criminal investigation, Sexwale’s first stop might be Europe. The only other European challenger is Jerome Champagne. Champagne has already tried to challenge Blatter this year, but failed to get the five nominations required to stand for the presidency, so he is likely to fall out of the race pretty soon. If you think politics and sport do not mix, then you are sadly mistaken and this is where Sexwale might very well outsmart his fellow runners. Sexwale’s credentials as a politicians and his knowledge of how good relations on the field could benefit countries off it is key to winning votes.
His only serious challenger is likely to be Prince Ali bin Hussein who was the lone challenger to Blatter’s throne earlier this year and ensured Blatter did not win by a majority vote. The prince is likely to win backing from large parts of Asia and, potentially, a few blocs in Europe, but it will all come down to who can woo the African bloc.
David Nakhid, a former Trinidad and Tobago footballer, is another challenger but he does not have any administrative experience other than running his own academies. While such independence would be welcome, he lacks the political credentials to make an impact. DM
Photo: A file picture dated 03 December 2009 of FIFA president Sepp Blatter (L) with former political prisoner and then South Minister of Housing Tokyo Sexwale (R) walking through a prison compound on Robben Island off Cape Town, South Africa. EPA/JON HRUSA