Kigali - Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa's bid to take over as FIFA
president received a massive boost on Friday with the Asian football
chief getting the powerful backing of the African continent.
Confederation of African Football (CAF) agreed to support the Bahraini's
bid to succeed Sepp Blatter as president of world governing body FIFA
in an election in Zurich later this month.
committee decided that CAF will give full support to Sheikh Salman with
his candidacy for FIFA presidency," CAF first vice-president Suketu
Patel said after an executive committee meeting during the African
Nations Championship tournament in Kigali.
vice-president Almamy Kabele Camara said the decision to support the
50-year-old Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president had been
"I am proud, of course," said Sheikh Salman briefly afterwards. "If I have the support and trust, I have to be."
considered as one of the leading candidates to succeed Blatter along
with Swiss Gianni Infantino, the UEFA number two, Sheikh Salman now
takes the mantle of favourite.
Africa traditionally play the role
of kingmakers in FIFA with 54 votes, the most of any of the world's
regional governing bodies, with the CAF recommendations generally
respected to the letter.
European body UEFA have 53 votes, Asia
(46), Concacaf (North, Central American and Caribbean (35), Oceania (11)
and South America (10).
Proof of the importance of Africa, four
of the five contenders came to the Rwandan capital seeking to win the
support of the continent - Sheikh Salman, Infantino, South African
businessman Tokyo Sexwale and Frenchman Jerome Champagne, a former
assistant secretary-general of FIFA.
Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of
Jordan was the only candidate not to attend after recently denouncing a
possible attempt to breach the election rules after CAF signed a January
15 agreement with the AFC to organise tournaments and programmes for
agreement and the decision to support Sheikh Salman is a sign of the
growing links between the African and Asian governing bodies with Qatar
offering to organise the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations in place of Morocco
amid the deadly Ebola pandemic.
The competition was finally hosted in Equatorial Guinea.
"This was in the air a little bit in recent days, it was an open secret," said Infantino, reacting to the CAF decision.
Nevertheless, he said he was "more than ever" in the race and "very, very confident".
decision is however a blow for the continent's only candidate Sexwale
whose "low-profile campaign" had caused concerns in the South African
Football Association (SAFA), and raises questions over his possible
withdrawal in favour of Sheikh Salman.
The South African
businessman, a former anti-apartheid prisoner alongside Nelson Mandela,
himself opened the door to this possibility last week by declaring that
he would do "everything so that the FIFA president would be from either
Africa or Asia, but not Europe".
"The time for alliances is...
coming, and it's healthy, it's democratic and it's good," he said. "Now
we are talking... we are brothers, we are colleagues."
stumbling block for Sheikh Salman's campaign are criticisms from human
rights groups over his alleged role in the repression of pro-democratic
demonstrations in 2011 in Bahrain and the use of torture, claims he
Another weak point, his possible accession to the top job
in FIFA could put the spotlight on the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to
Qatar of which he was a strong supporter.
FIFA's 209 member
associations will vote at a special congress in Zurich on February 26
for a successor for Blatter, who stepped down and was subsequently
banned for eight years, following corruption allegations which have
engulfed football's governing body.