SUNDAY TIMES - Tokyo's day of reckoning as Fifa prepares to vote
Sunday Times Soccer By MNINAWA NTLOKO, 2016-02-21 00:01:00.0

Tokyo's day of reckoning as Fifa prepares to vote

SA struggle icon Tokyo Sexwale continues to defy sceptics and maintains he has as much a chance as anybody else to be president of Fifa.
Image: Veli Nhlapo

South African Football Association (Safa) officials depart for Zurich, Switzerland, on Wednesday with cards held firmly against their chests after deciding not to publicly reveal who will get South Africa's vote in the Fifa presidential election on Friday.

It is Fifa's day of reckoning and the embattled world football governing body's 209 members, who each have a vote, will decide by secret ballot on who should succeed banned former president Sepp Blatter.

South Africa's vote is shrouded under a veil of secrecy and only Safa president Danny Jordaan, his vice-president Irvin Khoza and chief executive Dennis Mumble know who will get the country's nod when the three men take their places inside Zurich's Hallenstadion on Friday.

Safa was forced to take this unconventional route after South African candidate Tokyo Sexwale's decision to go against earlier assurances and continue his bid for the most powerful position in world football.

Jordaan had said Safa would be guided by the Confederation of African Football (Caf) on which of the five candidates to support but when the continental body officially threw its weight behind Bahrain's Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa at a meeting held in Kigali, Rwanda, early this month, Sexwale did not withdraw from the race as expected and elected to go it alone.

Safa found itself caught between a rock and a hard place as they knew publicly endorsing Sexwale's candidacy would have put them on a collision course with Caf, who are believed to be finally warming up to the South Africans after years of snubbing them from the continental football body's main dinner table.

Publicly going against Sexwale would have presented its own problems as Safa would be labelled as unpatriotic by fellow South Africans, especially after Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula gave his backing to the former Gauteng premier in a surprise press release issued a few days ago.

It is still unclear where Sexwale expects to get votes from as several African countries contacted by the Sunday Times over the past few weeks have not been shy to voice their displeasure with the way the South African has run his election campaign.

In an interview with the BBC this week, Sexwale said while he did not know what exactly happened behind the scenes in Kigali, he had no hard feelings against anyone at Caf and would continue to press ahead on his own steam.

''For me, most importantly is that there is somebody from Africa," he said.

''There is somebody who can cover our nakedness. It would have sent the wrong signal if there was not even one person out of one billion people in the largest football playing continent [to run in the Fifa presidential race]."

Seppe Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini Image: Supplied

It has been suggested that many of the Concacaf members are still stunned after the US Justice Department brought corruption charges against many Fifa officials and it is these votes that could be ripe for the picking for Sexwale.

Even Africa, Europe and Asia might not necessarily be as unified as has been suggested and anything is possible when it comes to a secret ballot.

As Jordaan himself conceded three weeks ago, this is an unusual presidential race and voting is certainly not expected to follow the usual script this week.

The 209 votes that are up for grabs are split between Caf (54 votes), Uefa (53 votes), Asian Football Confederation (46), Concacaf (35 votes), Oceania Football Confederation (11 votes) and Conmebol (10 votes).

Given the number of candidates in the running, they may need to each garner a minimum of 50 votes just to get past the first round if there is no one among them who manages two thirds of the 209 total.

Many observers do not expect Sexwale to survive beyond the first round of Fifa presidential voting and it remains to be seen if he can once again continue to defy the odds against him.