Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa received a major boost in his bid to become the next FIFA president when he received an endorsement from the Confederation of African Football on Friday.
The governing body of football in Africa, which has 54 full members, said the Asian Football Confederation president was its preferred candidate for the poll in Zurich on Feb. 26, CAF vice-president Suketu Patel told reporters in Kigali, Rwanda.
The decision effectively ended the campaign of South Africa’s candidate, Tokyo Sexwale.
With 54 voting nations, Africa’s choice is considered crucial in the ballot of 209 member associations on Feb. 26 in Zurich.
FIFA is voting for a new leader amidst its biggest ever corruption scandal which has seen 41 people and entities indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice.
Leading contenders Gianni Infantino, the Swiss general secretary of European soccer’s ruling body UEFA, and Asian Football Confederation (AFC) president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, were both in Kigali ahead of the CAF meeting.
CAF president Issa Hayatou, who is also FIFA’s acting chief, told French newspaper L’Equipe his confederation was originally behind UEFA president Michel Platini before the Frenchman was banned from football for eight years by FIFA’s Ethics Committee.
“If Platini had been a candidate Africa would have voted for him that is sure,” said Cameroonian Hayatou, who raised the prospect of Bahraini royal Salman being the preferred choice.
“If we decide to support Salman is it a crime? Who can prevent us from doing this?” he said.
South African Tokyo Sexwale and Frenchman Jerome Champagne were also expected to be in Rwanda but fellow FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan will not be attending, his spokesman told Reuters.