Sunday, 28 February 2016

SEXWALE'S WITHDRAWAL METHOD: how billionaire Tokyo failed to fly the flag for South Africa (take note, Mr Sports Minister)

Falling short: Tokyo Sexwale with Mbalula Fikile and pals
at the Balon d'Or awards... apparently on the campaign trail
THERE are times when an e-mail drops from a person in authority and you just can't grasp how this bloke actually got the job. When you read the words of somebody who should know better and wonder if he actually knows ANYTHING about his role. Or life in general.

Friday was one of those days. This is, word for word, the extraordinary statement I received from South Africa’s Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula with regard to Tokyo Sexwale’s aborted bit for the FIFA Presidency on Friday.

“In the aftermath of the election of FIFA President yesterday, we take our hats off to one of our own, Tokyo Sexwale, who fought a good fight and stood head and shoulders with the Titans of world football.  We are deeply encouraged that as a country we have produced capable leadership who have the tenacity, the stature and the capacity to contest leadership roles such as the one for FIFA President.  

“Tokyo Sexwale represented us well, carrying the South African flag high among the nations of the world.  He may not have won the election of FIFA President, but he won the race as a capable leader whose magnanimity will continue to do us proud for generations to come.  He gave us a voice and made us count as a country and as a continent.  We may not have won the FIFA Presidency this time around, but Africa’s moment to lead world football will come.

“Our heartfelt congratulations to Gianni Infantino, the new President of FIFA.  He assumes the mettle at a time world football is desperate for leadership that is able to steer the ship through troubled waters.  We have no doubt that Gianni Infantino is the man for the job, and has the skill, the staying power and the capacity to take FIFA to new heights and restore its dignity.  His humility and track record gives us comfort that world football has entered a new era full of hope and promise for a better tomorrow.”

Read the above, you might think the billionaire Sexwale campaigned like a US Presidential candidate, visited all our African neighbours to thank them for their nominations, and came within a whisker of becoming the most important man in world football.

But of course, he didn’t. Though right up to Thursday night, Tokyo was telling us how brave he was, how he’d battle on despite a lack of support at home and in Africa, that he would DO THE RIGHT THING and test the favour of the 207 voting nations.

But no. Much as he has in the past, when push came to shove for a presidential role, Sexwale ran for the hills, leaving his supporters red-faced and confounded.

Sexwale left it UNTIL HIS FINAL SPEECH to the extraordinary FIFA congress to drop his bombshell. He gave a measured, well-prepared chat, relaxed, almost slouched. He listed his campaign promises - mostly revolving around sponsorship and footballing justice for Africa - before suddenly revealing “My campaign ends here, good luck to the other four candidates.”

It was a bombshell. A last-minute capitulation. Perhaps Sexwale had been hoping for another round of pre-election arrests in Geneva, like the last FIFA presidential election. Or maybe he suddenly realised, even as the would-be emperor faced his footballing jury, that HE HAD NOT CLOTHES.

Whatever the reason, a few hours after promising he would run, Sexwale chickened out.

So no, Mr Razzmatazz, Sexwale DID NOT “fight a good fight”, he DID NOT “stand head and shoulders with the Titans of world football”, he took the coward’s way out and refused to risk that first round of voting.

I guess by then he had realised he might actually poll NO VOTES at all. Mbalula talks of “a capable leader” who will “make us proud for generations to come”. His statement actually reads like the Sports Minister didn’t realise the only African candidate had withdrawn at the last minute, making a mockery of our continent.

I can only imagine Mbalula was trying to justify the trip to the Balon d'Or awards he made with Sexwale a month ago, where he backed Sexwale all the way. Or justify some other hidden motivation to pat Tokyo on the back.

Ultimately, Sexwale DID NOT fly the South African flag. He ripped it down and ran off with it fluttering between his legs. And no, he DID NOT “have the tenacity, the stature and capacity to contest leadership roles”. He WITHDREW BEFORE THE CONTEST.

Like the brave outsider in the 100m sprint against the taller, faster guys at school, you have to get to the start gun and face the ignominy of trailing in 10m adrift. You can't walk away. That's just not right.

Unlike Jerome Champagne - the Frenchman who polled just seven votes in the first round - and Prince Ali of Jordan, Sexwale thus had NO VOTES to offer eventual winner Gianni Infantino in the decisive second round of voting.

There is an assumption Sexwale will be given a major role in Infantino’s regime because the Italian-Swiss candidate visited Robben Island with the former political prisoner last week. But given the horse-trading that went on with Champagne and Prince Ali between the two rounds of voting in Geneva on Friday, it’s far more likely other people, those who actually understand FIFA and fought to the finish, will have moved ahead of Sexwale.

But in the end, we have to hope Sexwale will gain some kind of foothold in the footballing kingdom under Infantino. Africa desperately needs somebody more credible than CAF’s Issa Hayatou, 69, who guided our African brothers to back the humbled Sheikh Salman.

Quite why a billionaire would want a support role in football administration I can’t tell you. He seems very busy buying up mines further north, amid some controversy. And why Infantino would want him after his craven retreat is hard to fathom.

But we live in hope. Perhaps Sexwale, in a position of power, can do something about that lingering 2010 match-fixing scandal, or allow Danny Jordaan and Irvin Khoza to travel beyond our borders in the wake of the FBI investigation in to Jack Warner’s magically disappearing $10m (R160m) “African Diaspora Fund”.

He could also sort out the R350m FIFA World Cup legacy cash, which our grass-roots so desperately needs. We might hope for somebody high up in the world body to provide a more democratic, better-run African Federation, where African Champions League opponents turn up on time.

Better yet, why not run for CAF president Mr Sexwale? After Polokwane 2007 and Geneva 2016, you may actually get to reach the voting phase. Then Mbalula will, presumably, wheel out the red carpet.

Monday, 22 February 2016

SEXWALE'S FIFA PRESIDENTIAL BID: Even an earth-quake won't save Tokyo on Friday

Just good friends: Blatter and Sexwale
SOUTH AFRICAN FOOTBALL will receive yet another wake-up call on Friday in Zurich. That’s when Tokyo Sexwale, despite his post-1994 millions and impeccable anti-Apartheid credentials, will embarrass the Rainbow Nation at the FIFA presidential elections.

The latest? Reports of a visit to Robben Island with Sexwale escorting rival - and one of the favourites - Gianni Infantino around his old prison off Cape Town. It's a curious game he's playing.

It's tempting to call the hastily-arranged trip a "get out of jail free card" and it may lead to Sexwale backing out of the race and telling his supporters - if there are any - to back Infantino.

Apparently Sexwale invited the other three presidential candidates too... but they were "too busy" to make the short boat trip to a grim little island offering world-wide recognition.

It’s not as if such last-minute, chaotic scenarios are rare in South African football. Having gained one point at AFCON 2015 and facing non-qualification for AFCON 2017, we should be asking serious questions about our national coach Shakes Mashaba.

Just last week I was told the story of an agent with close links to Mashaba offering an NFD goalkeeper “an automatic spot in the Rio Olympic squad” if he signed over his life.

We could wake up and ask about how the PSL can let an historic club like Moroka Swallows crumble in to nothing. Or we could arise from our slumbers and question the complete lack of crowd figures, the dodgy refs and the failure in CAF competitions too.

But SAFA, with their president doubling as the mayor of Port Elizabeth, will not act. We’ll go in to the World Cup qualifying draw after AFCON failure with Mashaba and his so-called Technical Director Neil Tovey still whittering on about “needing 4 points against Cameroon” when everyone knows we need six.

But what are we to expect? This is the same SAFA who endorsed Sexwale’s presidential bid. Their Communications Director called himself “SexwaleFan” on twitter for a few weeks, everyone flew out to the Balon D’Or and paraded about with Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula, spending millions on a few publicity shots.

But within a fortnight, the grand scenario of an African head of football was collapsing. Dominic Sexwale got rid of his twitter handle and told us: “We are worried about Sexwale’s lacklustre campaign, he doesn’t follow advice”.

CAF, with their president Issa Hayatou doubling as interim FIFA president, decided to back the highly-questionable Sheikh Salman and even SAFA were questioning the wisdom of supporting the only African candidate. The  governing ANC, unsure of how this all works, are apparently insisting SAFA vote for Sexwale. Or is that just Mbalula talking through his wallet?

Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia, three of the five nominees needed to get Tokyo to the starting line, have all expressed doubts about Sexwale’s campaign, which centred on international shirt sponsorship and voting deals with foreign power blocs. No mention of corruption. 

On Friday, Sepp Blatter won’t be standing for the first time in 22 years. Michel Platini, originally the natural successor, and the oily Jerome Valcke - who has South African citizenship and joint-control of our World Cup legacy fund - will be absent too. All three are banned from football activities by the shadowy ethics committee in the wake of the FBI’s exposure of FIFA’s corruption.

This “emergency election” offers little in the way of hope. It’s simply an attempt to stop football’s deeply-corrupt governing body from crumbling to dust with controversial World Cups in Russia and Qatar coming up.

Incredibly, Sexwale has managed to make himself the rank outsider among five candidates in a matter of weeks, Officially, the odds put him at 66-1 but in truth he’ll be lucky to pull more than two or three crosses next to his oft-mispronounced name.

Just nine months ago, with the FBI closing in, SAFA saw fit to send PSL chairman Irvin Khoza up ahead of Jordaan to vote for the disgraced Blatter, even as we digested the enormity of the recently-revealed $10m Africa Diaspora Fund. 

On Friday, it will be no different. Don’t expect anybody to vote for the good of football. Sheikh Salman al Khalifa, the 50-year-old from Bahrain with allegations of torture to deal with, is the unlikely favourite with most bookmakers. He runs the Asian Federation and has apparently secured Africa’s 54 votes.

Gianni Infantino is rated second favourite as he looks to keep the FIFA Presidency in Swiss hands. Once aligned with Platini, he appears to have most of the CONMEBOL and UEFA votes. The visit to Robben Island clearly shows he's desperate for a couple of CAF votes too.

Prince Ali Bin Al-Hussein is third on Friday’s starting grid. Aged just 40, he’s the third son of Jordan’s late King Hussein and is apparently directly descended from the prophet Muhammed after 43 generations.

In the 2015 FIFA presidential election last May, plucky Prince Ali lost 133-73 to Blatter, and with none of the major federations  backing him this time, he’ll be lucky to get close to that this time, though personally, I think he’s the only candidate worth voting for.

Jerome Champagne, yet another candidate with a fancy name, has nearly as much chance as Sexwale of reaching double figures.

Though he has the backing of a certain elderly Brazilian named Pele, Champagne was Blatter’s campaign manager in 2002 but his “reforming agenda” is apparently just as unpopular now as it was then.

Which leaves us with Sexwale. A man with no history of football administration and beyond a few dusty kickabouts whilst in jail, no real link to the global game other than being Blatter’s right hand man on issues of racism.

The questions about how Sexwale rocketed in to political and economic stratosphere so quickly after 1994 have already begun.  They’ll subside when he loses on Friday. He ignored Africa in his bid and, in turn, Africa is ignoring him apart from Ghana’s FA chairman Kwesi Nyantakyi taking time to say: “Even I’m more competent than Sexwale.”

As in football, as in life. SAFA managed to back the one candidate doomed to failure. Yet another wake-up call for a giant in a coma. Another reason to ask: who actually runs South African football… and why?

BACKGROUND READING: Evelyn Groenink on Tokyo Sexwale. Threats, assassinations, arms deals. It's unbelievable stuff.

Monday, 8 February 2016

THE BLAME GAME: Tokyo Sexwale's FIFA presidential bid is dead in the water, but WHO is at fault?

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 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.