CAPE TOWN, South Africa (AP) — Billionaire South African businessman Patrice Motsepe entered the race to be president of the African soccer confederation on Monday, bringing a new dynamic to a contest normally dominated by traditional administrators.
Motsepe, a mining magnate who owns South African club Mamelodi Sundowns, announced he would stand in the election next year and was backed by South African soccer association president Danny Jordaan, who is a vice president of the Confederation of African Football and an executive committee member.
Nigerian federation president Amaju Pinnick, who initially considered standing himself, also supported Motsepe’s bid, as did Sierra Leone federation president Isha Johansen. Pinnick and Johansen are also on CAF’s executive committee and are significant figures in African soccer.
“It’s not just endorsing him,” Pinnick said. “We will work night and day in ensuring he gets elected. And I can assure you 100% that Patrice Motsepe will be the next president of CAF.”
The CAF president automatically becomes a vice president of FIFA and a member of the soccer body’s decision-making council.
Motsepe did not attend the announcement at the South African soccer association headquarters in Johannesburg because he was in self-isolation and may have contracted COVID-19, organizers said. Current African soccer president Ahmad Ahmad is also in self-isolation in a hotel in Cairo after testing positive for the coronavirus.
Three men have now declared they will stand for the presidency of CAF in the election in Morocco in March and have received the backing of their national soccer association, as is required. Ahmad, the incumbent who is from Madagascar, and Jacques Anouma of Ivory Coast, a former member of the FIFA executive committee, are the others.
The deadline for candidates to submit papers is Thursday.
Ahmad won in 2017 over Issa Hayatou, who had led African soccer for 29 years and was a FIFA veteran and considered almost unbeatable in CAF presidential votes.
But after promising a new era of ethical leadership and transparency for African soccer, Ahmad has come under extensive scrutiny during his first term in office. He has been accused of misconduct and is the subject of a FIFA ethics committee investigation, which might still rule him out of running in the African election. CAF was effectively taken over by FIFA and run by its secretary general, Fatma Samoura, for six months last year amid claims the African confederation had become dysfunctional under Ahmad. A report by independent auditors raised concerns about financial irregularities.
Johansen said Monday that Ahmad’s reign had been a disappointment.
“Finally, we may have just got it right this time,” she said in reference to Motsepe’s candidacy.
Ahmad’s campaign has claimed support from 46 of the 54 national soccer associations in Africa who will vote in the election. Only four national associations made it clear on Monday they were supporting Motsepe — South Africa, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Botswana.
However, Ahmad’s victory in 2017 proved that African soccer elections are no longer as predictable as they once were under Hayatou.
“(Motsepe) has a formidable chance to win this election without reference to what anyone says,” Jordaan said.
The 58-year-old Motsepe was a surprise candidate and he has never held a position at a national soccer association. But he is a hugely successful businessman who made his money in mining and more recently private equity and financial services. In 2008, he was the first black African to become a billionaire, according to Forbes, which estimates his wealth at $2.4 billion.
Motsepe also has strong political connections. His sister is married to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Motsepe is also credited with being the driving force behind Sundowns becoming South Africa’s most successful club of the last decade and an African Champions League winner in 2016.
“His football and business success is well-documented,” Jordaan said, noting the financial stress African soccer is under because of the coronavirus pandemic and calling Motsepe “a revolutionary choice” to lead it out of trouble.
Anouma announced his candidacy over the weekend after receiving the backing of the Ivory Coast federation. He has a more traditional soccer background after previously leading his country’s federation and he has been on FIFA’s top committee.
Anouma attempted to stand for CAF president in 2013 but was disqualified from that election because he was not a member of the body’s executive committee. That contentious rule has since been dropped.
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