SUNDAY TIMES - Tokyo Sexwale pulls out of FIFA presidential vote
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Sunday Times Soccer By REUTERS, AFP, 2016-02-26

Tokyo Sexwale pulls out of FIFA presidential vote

Tokyo Sexwale.
Image: JAMES OATWAY.

Tokyo Sexwale on Friday withdrew from the FIFA presidential campaign just minutes before the first round of voting at the Congress being held in Zurich.

"I have got a surprise for you: my campaign ends today and I suspend my participation. With only four people, it is your problem now," the 62-year-old said at the end of his final lobbying speech.

Sexwale, a former prisoner in an anti-apartheid jail with Nelson Mandela, had conducted a low-key campaign and was always considered an outsider in the five-man contest.

Sexwale said he was prepared to work with any of the four remaining candidates and wanted a president who can get FIFA "out of the morass" it is in because of corruption scandals.

"Our house is under attack," he said in his speech. "Pressures, media, litigation, the world is waiting out there, they think this is the end of FIFA."

Quoting late president Nelson Mandela, he said: "When your house is under attack, when we are subjected to the kind of things we are seeing, it is the not the right moment to start a fire in your house."

There has been speculation throughout Sexwale's low-key campaign that he could pull out, but he began his speech by saying: "I am a soldier and I die with my boots on."

His withdrawal left Gianni Infantino, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, Prince Ali bin Al Hussein and Jerome Champagne in the first round of voting.

"My first task will be to take responsible action to end the crisis," Ali said in his address to the forum, vowing "no acceptance of mismanagement, corruption, self interest, racism, sexism, discrimination of any kind or human rights violations."

Sheikh Salman told the gathering: "I'm not ready to mortgage the future of FIFA for election purposes ... I am one of you, elected in a national association for 15 years and elected in a confederation as a president for the last three years."

Champagne called for greater equality in the sport: "Do you want a football that will become like basketball, concentrated in a very limited number of countries or leagues? Or do you want football to continue in a universal way?"

Infantino said: "I am feeling good and very positive. The support I am receiving fills me with confidence."

Blatter's ban means he cannot attend the congress, but the 79-year-old said he had had contact with all the candidates except Prince Ali, and that many groups had sought his advice.

"I only answered: vote for who you want," Blatter told a Swiss newspaper, the Aargauer Zeitung.

The CONCACAF confederation for North and Central America and the Caribbean opted against endorsing a candidate and delegates suggested that support within the region was divided.

With no block vote from those 35 delegates, Africa's decision looked set to be the decisive factor.

African countries make up more than a quarter of the 207 football associations eligible to vote. On the final day of campaigning, there were sharply conflicting versions of how they would cast their ballots.

While the vice-president of their continental federation said virtually all would back Sheikh Salman, several delegates told Reuters the African vote would be split.

Infantino has said he is confident of winning more than half of the African votes, while Liberian soccer chief Musa Bility predicted that 27 of the region's votes would go to Jordan's Prince Ali.