Nigeria backs Sepp Blatter for re-election
Sepp Blatter won support from an important African federation on Wednesday, hours before his challenger in FIFA's presidential election was placed under investigation amid damaging accusations of bribery.
The Nigeria Football Federation said it had decided to back 13-year incumbent Blatter partly because of his vow to fight corruption in the game - the topic that has dominated the buildup to next Wednesday's vote in Zurich.
Blatter's opponent, Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar, was ordered to attend a FIFA ethics hearing on Sunday after being accused of bribery in his campaign to unseat the Swiss as head of world football.
The 75-year-old Blatter had already received support from the all-encompassing Confederation of African Football and four of Africa's five regional federations, suggesting fading support for bin Hammam in a continent viewed as key to his challenge and where he was thought to have widespread support.
Africa has 53 national associations who will vote in the secret ballot at the June 1 FIFA presidential election, the joint-largest of FIFA's six continental confederations alongside UEFA.
The declarations by CAF and the four regional bodies backing Blatter are not binding on individual countries but Nigeria's public display of support at an emergency meeting of its executive committee on Tuesday was another indication of Africa abandoning Asian Football Confederation President bin Hammam.
The NFF said it will support Blatter for re-election ''for his tremendous works in development of the game in Africa and globally ... and his pledge to increase grants to national associations and to make the administration of the game more open and fight corruption.''
This weekend, Blatter made a short-notice visit to South Africa to attend meetings with representatives of 37 of CAF's 53 members. Regional federations from southern, central, east and west Africa then declared their ''full support'' to the current FIFA President.
''I am confident, very confident,'' Blatter said in Johannesburg of his chances of winning a fourth term. ''Especially after having received the support from the associations assembled here.''
Blatter said he was not campaigning for votes in Africa, but rather ''trying to protect FIFA'' from corruption.
Wednesday's allegations against bin Hammam and FIFA vice president Jack Warner are the latest to rock football's governing body.
In October, six high-profile FIFA officials - including Nigerian executive committee member Amos Adamu - were banned for breaching FIFA's ethics code in the bidding process for December's troubled 2018 and 2022 World Cup hosting vote.
CAF President Issa Hayatou and Ivory Coast federation president Jacques Anouma - also members of FIFA's executive committee - were accused this month of taking bribes to vote for Qatar's successful 2022 bid. They have both denied wrongdoing.
But despite the sanctioning of Adamu for soliciting bribes, and a temporary suspension of the NFF by FIFA last year because of government interference, Nigeria still backed Blatter for re-election - citing the promise of more money as one reason.
Last year's World Cup in South Africa - which brought great financial reward for the continent - won Blatter many friends in Africa.
''The economical rewards that FIFA enjoyed (from the World Cup), and of course member countries ... the returns are massive,'' South African Football Association President Kirsten Nematandani said this weekend.