By Nqobile Dludla
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African business magnate Tokyo Sexwale, who was a close friend of Nelson Mandela, said on Tuesday he wanted to repair the “severely undermined” FIFA brand as he confirmed he was standing for the presidency of world soccer.
The post-apartheid government minister who spent 13 years with the late president at the Robben Island prison said bribery allegations connected to the 2010 World Cup hosted by South Africa would not affect his candidacy.
Sexwale was a member of the bid team and the organising committee for the 2010 World Cup, the first held in Africa.
Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula confirmed in June the country had given $10 million meant to help pay for the tournament to a football official indicted in the United States, but denied the payment was a bribe, as U.S. prosecutors allege.
The money was approved by the South African government and in agreement with the South African Football Association to support the African diaspora in Caribbean countries as part of the World Cup legacy.
“It doesn’t affect me as a candidate because I was not involved in the money or giving anybody the money,” Sexwale told a news conference confirming he was running in the Feb. 26 vote to replace Sepp Blatter after Monday’s candidacy deadline.
“It’s a question best left to the people who are doing the investigations but it should be done with dignity so that we don’t tarnish the reputation of this country.”
FIFA will be keen to ensure its next leader is above any suspicion after becoming embroiled in the worst scandal of its 111-year history, with the United States having indicted several officials for bribery, money laundering and wire fraud in May.
Sexwale has been a member of FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force and has conducted talks between the Palestinian and Israeli federations.
“Having spent time inside FIFA, I am more than ready to take on the world,” Sexwale said.
“I think it was a vote of confidence by people who I can only say understand who I am and what I will be able to bring to football. FIFA, the organisation of the beautiful game, is damaged. The brand is severely undermined.”
As well as the U.S. investigation, Swiss authorities are also examining the decision to award the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar. Both countries deny wrongdoing.
Blatter and Michel Platini, president of European soccer’s governing body UEFA, who had been favourite to succeed him, have also been suspended for 90 days pending a full investigation by FIFA’s Ethics Committee. Both deny any wrongdoing.
Sexwale said he would head to Cairo immediately to seek the support of the Confederation of African Football as he faces off against candidates including Asian soccer chief Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain, and Gianni Infantino, general secretary of UEFA.
“I am going into this campaign as a candidate of my country with the confidence bestowed in me to make sure that we win. But win or lose people will know that there was an African who was here who shook things up,” Sexwale said.
(Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Alison Williams)