Infantino keeps up the pace and politics as he criss-crosses Africa

By Samindra Kunti

February 22 – On his pan-African tour, FIFA boss Gianni Infantino, addressing the general assembly of the Council of Southern African Football Associations (COSAFA), in South Africa, called on African teams to step up and leave a mark on the 2026 World Cup, the first global finals to be staged in a 48-team format.

“Doubling the number of teams participating in the World Cup is crucial because it can have an impact on youth and the entire football community as it gives many more countries a concrete chance to qualify,” said Infantino.

“This can trigger investments from governments and the private sector, which can help the member associations further develop football in their respective countries,” he added. “In order for African teams not only to participate, but to shine at a world stage, the work has to start now. Africa should be united to get back what it has given to global football, and this can only happen if we all work together.”

“COSAFA is very important in this part of the world, and as part of the FIFA Forward programme, in which we introduced a strong support to the zonal organisations. Nevertheless we can and want to do more so we need to be united and work together in a true spirit of cooperation.”

COSAFA have been the first and, to date, the only body to endorse Patrice Motsepe in the race for the presidency of CAF. The South African mining magnate is believed to be Infantino’s preferred candidate, along with Mauritania’s Ahmed Yahya, in the presidential elections of the Confederation of African Football (CAF).

In Cape Town, Infantino also met with Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s head of state.

The FIFA boss has been traversing Africa at a rapid pace, crisscrossing the continent to connect with heads of state and develop FIFA’s credentials in the region. He kicked off his African tour at the U-20 Africa Cup of Nations in Mauritania before visiting Senegal, the Central African Republic and Rwanda, where he fraternized with Paul Kagame.

At the weekend he was in Congo-Brazzaville to inaugurate another FIFA regional development office before crossing the Congo River to strengthen his ties with Felix Tshisekedi, the new chairman of the African Union, and meet Constant Omari, who will lose his place on the FIFA Council after failing an eligibility check following a ruling at the end of January.

Infantino’s African voyage has been under scrutiny for its conspicuous timing. His travels come in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and is even more remarkable given his governing body’s close ties with the World Health Organization. Above all, the FIFA president’s strong presence on the continent coincides with the final stretch of campaigning in the race for the CAF presidency.

The elections will take place on March 12 in Rabat, Morocco, with Motsepe, Yahya, Jacques Anouma and Augustin Senghor vying for the hot seat of an organization that has been teetering on the edge because of Ahmad Ahmad’s disastrous reign.

The current CAF president retains an outside chance of joining the race after he was reinstated in his role. Ahmad was banned for five-years from all football-related activities by FIFA and deemed ineligible to run before an interim ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) froze the ban.

Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1618714256labto1618714256ofdlr1618714256owedi1618714256sni@o1618714256fni1618714256