Infantino confident of getting majority of African support
By Mark Gleeson
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - FIFA presidential candidate Gianni Infantino is confident of taking more than half the votes from Africa in Friday’s election despite the continent’s governing body endorsing his major rival Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain.
Infantino made a flying visit to South Africa on Monday to visit Robben Island at the invitation of rival Tokyo Sexwale, who spent 13 years incarcerated on the island as an anti-Apartheid prisoner.
“I think I’ll make an impact in Africa. I think I will get more half the African votes,” the UEFA general secretary told reporters.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) endorsed Salman this month after hearing presentations from four of the five candidates at a meeting in Rwanda.
Infantino begun his campaign in Africa in October, travelling to Cairo to meet CAF’s leadership the day after announcing his candidacy, and is ending it on the island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned.
“CAF did not endorse me but I am confident I had enough individual interactions with leaders to gain their confidence," he said.
"I visited many countries and spent time at the various football associations, more than any other candidate. Any election is unpredictable but when you spend time with people you can feel who is really speaking the truth to you when they say that they support you,” Infantino added.
“I have something concrete to offer Africa.”
CAF has 54 member associations and represents a large bloc. Its endorsement of Salman, however, is not binding on its members.
African countries have usually voted contrary to their confederation’s recommendation in previous FIFA elections.
Sexwale invited all four of his rivals for the FIFA presidency to visit the prison on Robben Island in the days leading up to the election on Friday but only Infantino took up the offer.
“I wanted them to see where we played football behind enemy lines and where the game was played at its most basic," Sexwale said.
"We had guards in turrets with guns pointed at us but when we played they lowered them and became our spectators. It was important for all to come to the island and take some time and reflect.”
Sexwale served as the general secretary of the prisoners' football association during his time behind bars.
Sexwale, criticised by his own country’s football association for a maverick campaign, said he would continue in the election despite lacking obvious support.
“I am happy to be the only African in the race. It’s a large continent that must be represented and I‘m happy to be one of the top five (candidates)," Sexwale said.
"For me, whoever wins, it’s a party, as long as whoever wins guides the (FIFA) ship with a steady hand.” He said he would be happy to forge an alliance with Infantino, but the Swiss-born UEFA official rejected the idea.
“I believe FIFA needs a democratic election and a new FIFA president legitimised by a transparent process, not with deals made behind closed doors,” Infantino said.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)