The South African entrepreneur Patrice Motsepe wants to become President of the African Football Confederation. After a series of scandals, it would represent a fresh start. Gianni Infantino's support seems certain to him.
Patrice Motsepe has a keen sense for people. When the South African businessman met Donald Trump at the 2020 World Economic Forum, he opted for maximum linguistic abbreviation. He said: “Africa loves America. Africa loves you. " The American President was flattered and, according to a protocol published by the White House, replied: “Thank you very much. It's an honor. Thanks."
Motsepe used the favor to explain to Trump in a few words what his company earns money with: "We are active in the mining sector and have to do with financial services, land, real estate, technology." Trump looked astonished: "You did a great job."
That's how it works with Motsepe, he is underestimated at first. The son of a teacher began his career as a lawyer. In the years that followed, he repeatedly invested in companies that were supposed to gain significantly in value - and rose to become Africa's first black billionaire. In the meantime he describes himself as a philanthropist, promoting his image. He is also well connected in politics; the country's president Cyril Ramaphosa is his brother-in-law.
Just a shadow president?
Now Motsepe is pursuing a new mission. The 58-year-old wants to be elected President of the African Football Federation (CAF) on March 12 in Rabat. He would then be in charge of the continent's 54 national associations and, in one fell swoop, would be one of the most powerful football officials in the world.
Motsepe's appointment could be an opportunity for the crisis-ridden CAF. Incidents of corruption increased under the banned ex-President Ahmad Ahmad. The Madagascan favored himself and his friends, including buying cars at the association's expense. Some observers cautiously hope that a billionaire would have less compelling reasons to get rich. As a man in business, he might also be most likely to be able to attract sponsors, which is no easy task because Ahmad has seriously damaged the CAF's image.
The optimism is somewhat clouded by the fact that South Africa's national association president is promoting Motsepe. Danny Jordaan praises the supposedly revolutionary charm of Motsepe's application so aggressively that he almost gives the impression that he is himself in the running.
In contrast to Motsepe, Jordaan is well-known in the international football business: in 2015, he had to admit that he paid a million euros to the notorious Caribbean puller Jack Warner, but he stayed tenaciously in office where he even survived rape allegations. Motsepe could become a shadow president of Jordaan, who was holding the strings in the background, presumably skeptics.
Motsepe's chances of being chosen are good. He has no shortage of resources; he was campaigning in Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Togo and Benin. In his favor, the fact that debates in the CAF often run along language boundaries could have the effect. His three opponents all come from French-speaking countries - and are likely to take votes away from each other.
There is a lot at stake for Fifa President Gianni Infantino. He is dependent on support from Africa after his relationship with other confederations, in particular with UEFA, has deteriorated badly. Knowing that a large part of the 54 CAF associations are behind you is of vital importance to him.
In November, the Kenyan media reported on a meeting of East African officials in Nairobi at which Infantino allegedly solicited support for Motsepe. That went under a bit at the time because it was not yet clear whether Ahmad Ahmad would actually have to vacate his post at the top of the CAF. Infantino's alleged partisanship at this early stage is all the more astonishing.
A delicate handshake
Last Friday, the Swiss and the South African ran into each other again. They met in Cameroon when Ahmad's predecessor, Issa Hayatou, was appointed Honorary President of the CAF. Hayatou was fined in 2018 for illegally selling TV rights. A picture of Infantino and Hayatou greeting each other with a handshake is circulating on social networks. Both look delighted. They have their face masks pulled under their chins.
Motsepe would go into a minefield at the top of the CAF. It is unclear with what intention he is prepared to risk his previously good reputation as a businessman. At least in public, the billionaire has not yet made a clear statement.