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African kingmakers face moment of truth in FIFA race

05 February 2016, 08:08

Paris - Africa's football powerbrokers meet in Rwanda on Friday, poised to make or break the dreams of the five men chasing the biggest job in the sport -- the presidency of FIFA.

With 54 votes at the disposal of the Confederation of African Football (CAF) -- the most of any of the world's regional governing bodies -- it is no surprise that four of the five contenders will be in Kigali to find out who Africa prefers to be its standard-bearer.

Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, the president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), UEFA's number two Gianni Infantino, South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale and Jerome Champagne, a former assistant secretary-general of FIFA, will all be at the meeting desperate to secure the support required for the February 26 vote.

Only Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan is understood to be staying away from the CAF meeting being held on the sidelines of the African Nations Championship tournament being played in Kigali.

Prince Ali recently denounced a possible attempt to breach the election rules and called for an investigation after CAF signed a January 15 agreement with the AFC to organise tournaments and programmes for technical development.

But in a strong-worded interview with French sports daily L'Equipe on Thursday, CAF president Issa Hayatou, who is also the acting FIFA chief after the suspension of Sepp Blatter, said Africa will not be pressured into making a decision over who to support in the election.

"We are free to support who we want," said the veteran Cameroonian administrator.

"The last time we were behind Blatter and UEFA supported Ali. He said nothing at the time. But who is Prince Ali? If he wants to bark then that's his problem.

"We will vote for whoever we want. If today we decide to support Salman, is it a crime? Who can prevent us from doing that?"

But CAF's decision has been made tougher by the presence in the race of an African candidate -- Sexwale.

Sexwale, a former anti-apartheid prisoner alongside Nelson Mandela, insisted at the weekend that he would not quit the FIFA race despite being widely criticised on the continent for his campaign.

"We are in the dark and we do not know as neighbours what his strategies are. Maybe they do not need our vote," said Namibia's Football Association president Frans Mbidi.

Sexwale hit back, telling AFP: "I am still running and not running away. I am still in the FIFA race."

However, he did raise the possibility of some candidates joining forces.

"The time for alliances is... coming, and it's healthy, it's democratic and it's good. Now we are talking... we are brothers, we are colleagues."

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