Tokyo Sexwale, a former anti-apartheid political activist jailed alongside Nelson Mandela, declared his bid Saturday as a candidate for the FIFA presidency, putting himself on track to become the 111-year-old organization’s first African president.
Sexwale filed his candidacy papers in time for FIFA's Monday deadline after receiving the unanimous endorsement of the South African Football Association and announcing the news at a press conference in Johannesburg. Sexwale is up against seven other candidates to replace Sepp Blatter as president of the corruption-plagued governing body of international soccer.
Sexwale has been hailed as a charismatic, principled diplomat passionate about fighting racism within FIFA who also possesses the business and political leadership experience to rescue the organization from scandal.
“If we don’t stand up, if we allow racism to overpower sport, we will be doomed to existence in a hostile world,” he told FIFA officials last year.
The 62-year-old South African has served on FIFA’s anti-racism committee as an adviser and was on the organizing committee for the 2010 World Cup. He also is a businessman with financial interests in the mining and energy sectors; his net worth has been estimated at $200 million. Sexwale's career includes a stint as host of South Africa’s version of "The Apprentice" and as a cabinet minister who served after South Africa adopted democracy.
Sexwale was charged in the late 1970s with terrorism and conspiracy and imprisoned on Robben Island alongside Mandela, who became South Africa's first black president in 1994. Sexwale served 13 years of an 18-year sentence and was released in 1990. He was elected premier of Gauteng province in 1994.
The FIFA election will take place Feb. 26, and will pit Sexwale against Michel Platini, Gianni Infantino, Jerome Champagne, Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain, Prince Ali bin al-Hussein of Jordan, David Nakhid and Musa Bility.