|Setting a president: Blatter and Sexwale|
TRY as I might, I can find no South African pride in the tale of Tokyo Sexwale's failed FIFA presidential bid. What should have been a patriotic cause worth singing about has become an excruciating embarrassment for our nation and our game.
In a world where money talks, the billionaire’s reputation and considerable funds were unable to persuade Issa Hayatou and Confederation of African Football to vote for the only African candidate.
But then, did anyone ever expect CAF to support a South African? They weren't even all that positive about the 2010 World Cup if the voter records are to be believed.
Imprisoned with Nelson Mandela - they played football together on Robben Island - Sexwale rose quickly in post-1994 South Africa. He popped in and out of government a couple of times at cabinet level and was embroiled in a few shenanigans around the time of then-president Thabo Mbeki’s demise.
I won’t go in to that. Nor is it worth debating his rise to billionaire status with profitable business dealings in Guinea, his acrimonious divorce, his trust funds or his connections with Sepp Blatter, the man FIFA are trying so hard to write out of their history.
We’ll let all that slide. Right from the start of Sexwale’s bid, there was a feeling his surname was his strongest point in a field which included an exotic blend of Champagne, Infantino, Salman and Bility.
The problem is simple. Tokyo Sexwale has NEVER been a football man. Sure, there were the island kickabouts, but I can find little trace of his boot-prints in South African football history. A sponsorship here, a statement against racism there.
Blatter, typically clumsy on football racism, used Sexwale shamelessly in an attempt to alter his image as an old, corrupt Swiss conservative.
It worked too. Sexwale’s name and reputation did FIFA no harm on the anti-racism front. They even sent Sexwale to Israel to calm the Palestinian persecution on the football field.
But all this is mere window-dressing. Fiddling around on the edge of the man.
The truth is, Sexwale has proven to be a ruthless businessman and politician. His decision to bid for FIFA leadership was taken in that spirit.
With no understanding of footballing politics in Africa, Tokyo’s spokesman went all xenophobic on the African football fixer Mamadou Gaye and though Namibia and Zimbabwe backed his bid - they were two of the rapidly disappearing five nominees - both neighbouring national Football Associations saw fit to ask why Sexwale was ignoring the locals in his grand parade to footballing omnipotence.
The classic turnabout was seen most clearly in Switzerland three weeks ago, when Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula and the expensive football presenter Robert Marawa accompanied Sexwale to the Ballon D’Or presentation.
Though it was Lucas Radebe (a far better South African FIFA presidential candidate in my view) who did the talking on stage, it was Mbalula who made it clear he was backing Sexwale, just as Dominic Chimhavi and the non-travelling con-conspirator Danny Jordaan had done on SAFA’s behalf a week before.
But behind the scenes, the charade was slowly falling apart. Chimhavi, the SAFA communications director, came out publicly with a Sexwale rebuke along the lines of “he is not taking our advice” and accusing Tokyo of “a lacklustre campaign”.
I’ve discussed this seminal moment in Sexwale’s campaign with Chimhavi. Why was it not done in private? Why the big disrespect? Why did Dominic himself change his Twitter name from “Sexwale for President” back to his old name?
What is clear is this: somewhere along the line, Sexwale lost sight of his goal. Instead of being the first proud African to take on the giants of football, he was cruising around talking to the elite, ignoring his roots.
But when the German FA, early Sexwale supporters, decided to support Infantino, the writing was on the wall.
Sexwale left for Rwanda on Friday to join the CAF high-ups living it up at CHAN in Kigali. Like Bafana Bafana, he wasn’t qualified for that particular situation.
Hayatou and CAF dismissed Sexwale out of hand. They went for Sheikh Salman. Those 55 priceless African votes would go to an Asian.
On the social networks, South Africans railed against Hayatou and CAF, on the very day one of our four PSL representatives Ajax Cape Town had back out of the Confederations Cup.
I have written about the bias against South Africa by the Francophile northern nations. Have a squint at this http://neal-collins.blogspot.co.za/2013/04/the-shocking-truth-about-caf-danny.html It keys in neatly with the Arabic stronghold, where slavery is permitted but South Africans aren’t.
But on this particular subject, what did we expect? Sexwale hardly left with a glowing endorsement from the ANC or SAFA. Nobody came out with last minute backing, only a few vague whispers about “making deals” to keep him in the race.
We castigate Hayatou for being nearly 70 and in charge of African football since 1988, but Irvin Khoza, the man who REALLY runs South African football, is 68 and has been in charge of our declining PSL since 1992.
These men are set in their ways. Their decisions, often dictated by finance rather than football, cannot be disputed. Ask Musa Bility about his still-born campaign.
Without genuine, whole-hearted backing from South Africa, Sexwale’s millions weren’t going to help. CAF hardly need an excuse to keep those from the tip of Africa out of power.
But rather than blaming Hayatou and CAF for this embarrassment - if Sexwale doesn’t withdraw as CAF said he had, he may end up with no votes at all - we should look long and hard at how this all started.
SAFA and the ANC saw Sexwale as the man who could lift the cloud of suspicion hanging over our nation: The 2010 match-fixing (Ace Kika, banned for 6 years, didn’t act alone) and the $10m Africa Diaspora fund (which goes right to the top of South Africa’s power structure) used to leverage votes for hosting World Cup 2010.
But when the going got tough, we turned our back on our own man. In public and behind the scenes. Sexwale supporters disappeared like rats from a sinking ship.
Before we attack CAF, we should look at our own structures. Our own decisions. If Sexwale’s abortive bid for FIFA president encourages change at SAFA, it will have done some good. Otherwise, considerable time and money have been utterly wasted on a campaign that was NEVER going to succeed.