Torn between Tokyo and Africa
Minister declares support for Sexwale, derailing Safa’s planned statement that they won’t vote for him
Safa, stunned by Fifa presidential candidate Tokyo Sexwale’s continued talk of their support in face of his inevitable humiliating defeat, was ready to pull the plug on him until the sports minister threw a spanner in the works. The football association would then save itself from the wrath of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) for going against the continental body, which told Sexwale he did not have a campaign and, as a result, it did not know what he stood for.
CAF has recently been warming to South Africa, and the fact that the country now has many officials serving in CAF committees means Safa will be left with little choice in coming days but to go with the continental body’s decision to back Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain.
Safa president Danny Jordaan is a special adviser to CAF president Issa Hayatou, and other South Africans serve on different CAF committees.
City Press has learnt that Safa was to hold an emergency committee meeting yesterday, where they were going to announce their decision not to back Sexwale.
But the meeting had to be called off following the last line in Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula’s statement on the matter which read: “Mr Sexwale continues to enjoy the unconditional support of the ministry and the department of sport and recreation.”
This, according to sources in Safa, put the local governing body in a very awkward position – as dumping Sexwale would put Safa at odds with the minister and the government.
Safa was frantically trying to have an audience with the minister to discuss the Sexwale bid.
A high-ranking official said there was no way that Safa was going to go against CAF, the minister notwithstanding.
The official said it had always been Safa’s stance that it would support anything CAF decided.
Before Sexwale left for Kigali, Rwanda, last week, the Safa emergency committee made it clear they would take their cue from CAF, but since the February 5 decision, Safa has not come out openly to confirm this.
The insider said: “The minister’s statement caught us off guard and we had to cancel the meeting.
“We will first address the issue with the minister, so he can be in line with what we do.
“We are torn now because we can’t be seen to be going against the government and, at the same time, CAF has been good to us.”
He added that CAF no longer had a hostile attitude towards South Africa, and it was important to maintain the good relationship with the continental football body.
“We now have a good working relationship with CAF, and it is evident at the number of people serving in various CAF committees. We value our relationship with CAF and we are not going to go against them.
“Every country has people on [CAF] committees but we have the most representatives outside the normal allocation.”
The insider added that this was one of the reasons why Safa had put its foot down to force Ajax Cape Town to honour its CAF Confederation Cup match in Angola this weekend.
Ajax had tried to withdraw from the competition, citing security concerns.
Said the insider: “In light of what has been happening at CAF, we felt their concerns could be addressed, and we did that with our Angolan counterparts. We have a good relationship with the Angola Football Association.”
He said it was important to maintain the good image of the country on the continent.
In a week in which he was rejected by his own continental confederation and no country on the planet came out to support him openly, one would have thought Sexwale would have done the prudent thing: to call off his disappointing “campaign” for the top position at Fifa.
But he remains determined to go to Zurich for the elections.
Meanwhile, earlier in the week, the outspoken head of the Liberia Football Federation, Musa Bility, declared that at least 26 of the 54 African countries would defy CAF and not vote for the sheikh.
But he did not say who they were going to vote for on February 26.
Liberia and Southern Sudan decided to break ranks with CAF and made it clear that their support was for Gianni Infantino, while Egypt, another African country going against the CAF decision, said they would support Prince Ali bin al-Hussein.