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FIFA President: Gianni visit to Shake up Africa

JOHANNESBURG. — FIFA president Gianni Infantino will meet more than 50 presidents of African football associations in an unprecedented su...

JOHANNESBURG. — FIFA president Gianni Infantino will meet more than 50 presidents of African football associations in an unprecedented summit in Johannesburg this week, officials said yesterday. 

Each of the continent’s 54 member countries has been invited to a day-long executive summit with Infantino, called to discuss general issues in the game and explain FIFA’s plans to expand the World Cup and changes to its development structures.

The association presidents will be divided into two groups with some 25 meeting Infantino and other FIFA officials tomorrow and the rest repeating the exercise the next day, organisers said.

It is the first time such a summit has been held at which FIFA deals directly with all the leaders of African football. Infantino, however, did meet about 20 association presidents in Nigeria last July in a gathering that pointedly snubbed long-standing Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Issa Hayatou and members of his executive committee.
FIFA President

Usually the only time all association presidents get together is for annual FIFA and CAF congresses.

The meetings, which are being held behind closed doors, will be followed by a trip by Infantino to Harare on Thursday to join birthday celebrations for the Zimbabwe Football Association president Philip Chiyangwa, a vocal critical of Hayatou who is backing his opponent in next month’s CAF presidential election.

Hayatou (70) is seeking to extend his tenure in office into a third decade but faces a strong challenge from Ahmad of Madagascar, a former government minister who uses just one name. The CAF elections are to be held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on March 16.

ZIFA president Chiyangwa has invited a wide array of African football administrators to travel from Johannesburg to Harare as he seeks to galvanise support for Ahmad. In an exchange of letters published by local media last week, Hayatou threatened Chiyangwa with sanctions if he went ahead with the meeting, saying he had no right to call such a gathering.

But Chiyangwa, a wealthy businessman who has used his own money to fund the bankrupt ZIFA, responded by saying it was a celebration of his birthday and his election as president of the Council of Southern Africa Football Associations (COSAFA), a regional body made up of 14 countries.

Infantino’s presence in Harare is seen as a tacit sign of support for the anti-Hayatou camp. Hayatou and CAF last year formally endorsed the candidacy of Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa who Infantino beat in the FIFA presidential elections.

Meanwhile, the South African government has denied President Jacob Zuma has given an endorsement to CAF president Hayatou for the upcoming continental elections next month. Hayatou faces perhaps the biggest challenge of his near three-decade reign as CAF president after COSAFA has endorsed Madagascar Football Association president Ahmad to stand against the Cameroonian.

A number of other associations around the continent have followed suit in a bid to unseat Hayatou, around who corruption allegations have long swirled. Hayatou met South African President Zuma on Saturday in the presence of Minister of Sport Fikile Mbalula, SAFA president Danny Jordaan and Mamelodi Sundowns president Patrice Motsepe.

Hayatou was in South Africa for the CAF Super Cup between Sundowns and DR Congo side TP Mazembe and CAF later released a statement which in part claimed Zuma offered “South Africa’s flawless support for his (Hayatou’s) candidacy for a new term at the helm of the CAF.” However, Mbalula’s office later denied this in what is an embarrassing blow for Hayatou.

“President Jacob Zuma did not pledge his personal support or that of the South African government behind the name of Mr Hayatou,” the statement read. — Reuters.

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