Former South African anti-apartheid campaigner Tokyo Sexwale, who was once jailed alongside Nelson Mandela, officially entered the running Saturday to become president of FIFA, an aide told AFP.
The 62-year-old diamond mining tycoon and former politician is the fifth official candidate for the February 26 election to succeed Sepp Blatter.
Confirmation that Sexwale would enter the race came from a senior member of his staff, who requested anonymity.
“Tokyo Sexwale will be a candidate for the FIFA presidency,” he told AFP.
No African has headed the 111-year organisation.
The decision came after the South African Football Association (Safa) national executive committee gave Sexwale their full backing after a meeting at a hotel near Johannesburg international airport.
“The Safa NEC has unanimously endorsed Tokyo Sexwale’s FIFA presidential candidacy,” the body said.
Other confirmed candidates ahead of the deadline this Monday are UEFA chief Michel Platini, Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan, former Trinidad and Tobago captain David Nahkid and former FIFA deputy general secretary Jerome Champagne.
The election to replace Blatter, who has been FIFA president since 1998 and is standing down, comes at a time of crisis within the football governing body.
Prosecutors are investigating top FIFA officials, including Blatter and Platini as part of a wide-ranging clampdown on fraud and corruption at the heart of the Zurich-based organisation.
Blatter handsomely won for a fifth term, but soon after the corruption scandal engulfed him, he announced that he would stand down in February.
Candidates must be nominated by at least five national associations and have played an active role in football for two of the last five years.
Former Germany star Franz Beckenbauer backed Sexwale this month, saying the South African can expect support from the German Football Association.
The ‘Kaiser’ said the German body know “about the quality of the South Africans and the quality of Tokyo Sexwale.
“I certainly believe that the German Football Association would support his candidacy,” added Beckenbauer, a former FIFA executive committee member.
Sexwale has no active role in South African football, apart from being part of the 2010 FIFA World Cup bidding team and the committee that organised the event.
His work in the 2010 World Cup later saw him being appointed to FIFA’s anti-racism and anti-discrimination committee, creating a name for himself in the organisation.
This year, Sexwale led a delegation to Palestine and Israel to discuss issues affecting the development of football.
He is also a FIFA media committee member.
Sexwale underwent military training in the Soviet Union in 1975, returning to apartheid South Africa a year later.
His conviction on charges of terrorism and conspiracy to overthrow the government saw him being sentenced to Robben Island prison in 1977.
He served 13 years of his 18-year jail term, being freed in 1990.
After his release, Sexwale played an active role in calming the deadly wave of political violence that engulfed black townships outside Johannesburg.
Sexwale was in 1994 appointed by Mandela as the first premier of the country’s richest province, Gauteng, which includes Johannesburg and Pretoria.