|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.