Africa backs Infantino for FIFA re-election next year
SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt (AP) — FIFA voters in Africa have backed Gianni Infantino to be re-elected as president, and also Sunday chose an official from Malawi to represent them on the world soccer body's ruling council.
The decisions were made by 54 African soccer federations — more than one-quarter of the FIFA membership — at a special election meeting provoked by the resignation of a Ghanaian official who was implicated in taking cash bribes.
The disgraced former FIFA Council member, Kwesi Nyantakyi, was replaced by Walter Nyamilandu, a former international player and longtime president of Malawi's soccer federation.
Nyamilandu won a 35-18 vote in a runoff against Danny Jordaan of South Africa, the head organizer of the 2010 World Cup, to fill Africa's seventh and final seat on the 37-member FIFA strategic panel chaired by Infantino. Its next meeting is in Africa, on Oct. 26 in Kigali, Rwanda.
Infantino was at the Confederation of African Football (CAF) election in Sharm El Sheikh and earlier won support from the continent's soccer leaders for his own expected re-election to lead FIFA on June 5 in Paris. The deadline for opponents to enter the contest is Feb. 5.
"Thanks for the support because it means a lot to me," Infantino said addressing the congress.
One of his supporters, Nigeria soccer president Amaju Pinnick, said all 54 CAF members had individually backed Infantino.
"It is going to be unfair for anybody to stand up against Gianni Infantino," Pinnick told The Associated Press in an interview, citing the success of the 2018 World Cup in Russia which "defined football." Revenue from that tournament lets FIFA pay at least $6 million to each member federation over the next four years.
"He has been able to bridge the gap between Africa and the rest of the world," said Pinnick, also pointing to recent praise for Infantino's FIFA from U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. "These are two of the most powerful presidents in the world."
Infantino's efforts to present FIFA as reformed since his 2016 election were helped Sunday. Nyamilandu, a relative unknown in soccer politics, beat the head of South Africa's World Cup bid which has been implicated in bribery by the U.S. Department of Justice's sweeping investigation of corruption linked to FIFA.
The special election was needed after Ghana's Nyantakyi was filmed in an undercover sting and accused of taking a prohibited cash gift of $65,000. He is being investigated by FIFA's ethics committee.
Jordaan and veteran Tanzanian soccer official Leodegar Tenga lost out. Tenga was eliminated in the first round of voting.
"It has always been my dream to serve at the top of football administration, which is FIFA," Nyamilandu told the AP. "I am excited to be elected on the FIFA Council because it has always been my wish."
Nyamilandu was considered an outsider against Jordaan and Tenga, who are both members of CAF's executive committee. Jordaan was even the preferred candidate of the southern African region ahead of Nyamilandu.
Jordaan previously lost in a vote for the then-FIFA executive committee in 2011 and withdrew from an election for a council seat last year.
"I am very disappointed that I failed to win the election," said Jordaan, who is president of South Africa's soccer federation.
Nyamilandu was a defender in Malawi's national team in the 1990s, and head of the soccer federation since 2004 but has a fairly low profile internationally.
Speculation grew in the buildup to the vote that he gained support across Africa's member countries, reportedly with the backing of CAF president Ahmad who Infantino helped to power last year.
AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report