By Mark Gleeson
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - FIFA President Gianni Infantino will meet more than 50 presidents of African football associations in an unprecedented summit in Johannesburg this week, officials said on Sunday.
Each of the continent’s 54 member countries has been invited to a day-long executive summit with Infantino, called to discuss general issues in the game and explain FIFA’s plans to expand the World Cup and changes to its development structures.
The association presidents will be divided into two groups with some 25 meeting Infantino and other FIFA officials on Tuesday and the rest repeating the exercise the next day, organisers told Reuters.
It is the first time such a summit has been held at which FIFA deals directly with all the leaders of African football.
Infantino, however, did meet about 20 association presidents in Nigeria last July in a gathering that pointedly snubbed long-standing Confederation of African Football (CAF) President Issa Hayatou and members of his executive committee.
Usually the only time all association presidents get together is for annual FIFA and CAF Congresses.
The meetings, which are being held behind closed doors, will be followed by a trip by Infantino to Harare on Thursday to join birthday celebrations for the Zimbabwe Football Association President Philip Chiyangwa, a vocal critical of Hayatou who is backing his opponent in next month’s CAF president election.
Hayatou, 70, is seeking to extend his tenure in office into a third decade but faces a strong challenge from Ahmad of Madagascar, a former government minister who uses just one name. The CAF elections are to be held in Addis Ababa on March 16.
Chiyangwa has invited a wide array of African football administrators to travel from Johannesburg to Harare as he seeks to galvanise support for Ahmad.
In an exchange of letters published by local media last week, Hayatou threatened Chiyangwa with sanctions if he went ahead with the meeting, saying he had no right to call such a gathering.
But Chiyangwa, a wealthy businessman who has used his own money to fund the bankrupt Zimbabwe Football Association, responded by saying it was a celebration of his birthday and his election as President of the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations, a regional body made up of 14 countries.
Infantino’s presence in Harare is seen as a tacit sign of support for the anti-Hayatou camp.
Hayatou and CAF last year formally endorsed the candidacy of Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa who Infantino beat in the FIFA presidential elections.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)
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