An apartheid-era political prisoner turned multi-millionaire mining tycoon joined the race to be FIFA president on Saturday.
South African Tokyo Sexwale (sesh-WAH’-lay) announced his intention to run in next year’s emergency election to replace Sepp Blatter after receiving the endorsement of the South African Football Association.
Sexwale will submit his candidature papers to FIFA to meet Monday’s deadline after receiving the unanimous backing of his national federation, he said at a news conference in Johannesburg.
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If he’s supported by Africa’s 53 other FIFA member countries, he will gain a significant boost in the contest to head the world’s most popular sport.
”I will not disappoint you,” Sexwale told South African reporters on Saturday.
The 62-year-old Sexwale’s varied credentials include being a current FIFA anti-racism adviser, a former prisoner on Robben Island alongside Nelson Mandela, and the previous host of South Africa’s version of ”The Apprentice” television show.
He is also a hugely successful businessman with interests in the mining and energy sectors, and whose wealth has been estimated at $200 million.
Four other men have already submitted their papers for the FIFA election: UEFA President Michel Platini, whose chances appear to have been thwarted by an ethics investigation, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, ex-FIFA official Jerome Champagne and David Nakhid, a former player from Trinidad and Tobago.
To stand as a candidate, hopefuls must be nominated by at least five national federations, and show they have played an active role in football for two of the last five years. They will also face ethics checks.
FIFA will elect a new president on Feb. 26 following Blatter’s decision in June to step down amid corruption probes into the world soccer body by American and Swiss investigators.
Blatter and Platini, who was previously the favorite to win the election, have both been provisionally suspended for 90 days by FIFA’s ethics committee over a payment of 2 million Swiss francs (about $2 million) Blatter made to Platini in 2011. That could ruin Platini’s chances of standing for president.
”The brand of FIFA is severely damaged today following various scandals and other allegations that we are hearing about,” Sexwale said. ”It needs to be restored.”
If Sexwale is backed as the preferred candidate for the whole African continent, that could put him in a strong position. Africa is FIFA’s largest continental confederation with 54 voting national associations.
Longtime Confederation of African Football President Issa Hayatou, who is interim FIFA president during Blatter’s suspension, said he will not stand in the election. Another possible African candidate, Liberian FA president Musa Bility, has failed to gain the backing of the rest of Africa.
As well as working on FIFA’s anti-discrimination task force, Sexwale has mediated for FIFA in the dispute between the Israeli and Palestinian soccer federations, a diplomacy mission given to him by Blatter. He served on the organizing committee for South Africa’s 2010 World Cup.
But Sexwale also comes with political clout. He was imprisoned on the notorious Robben Island off Cape Town for 13 years, some of them alongside Mandela, for fighting against apartheid, South Africa’s system of white minority rule. He became a close confidante of Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner who died in 2013. Released from prison in 1990, Sexwale served as a cabinet minister after South Africa’s shift to democracy and at one time held ambitions of becoming South African president.
His wealth has often been a story of interest for South Africa’s media, which reported in 2013 that Sexwale had bought his own personal tropical island in the Indian Ocean for $70 million.
AP Sports Writer Rob Harris contributed to this report.
Gerald Imray is on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GeraldImrayAP