As the head of African soccer battles in court this week to stay on the ballot for re-election, FIFA president Gianni Infantino is coming off a comprehensive tour of the continent.
The timing of the visit does not appear to be coincidental.
Infantino fueled talk of election interference by visiting about a dozen African countries and meeting heads of state along the way _ ala predecessor Sepp Blatter _ while promoting his preferred candidate, South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe.
The current president of the Confederation of African Football, Ahmad Ahmad of Madagascar, is appealing against a five-year ban imposed by FIFA for financial misconduct while running the Cairo-based body.
Although Infantino helped put Ahmad in office four years ago, it is unlikely that even a victory for the Madagascan at the Court of Arbitration for Sport would help his chances in a campaign increasingly influenced by the FIFA president.
In the aftermath of Infantino’s African tour, a deal was offered to the four candidates challenging Ahmad in the March 12 election to clear the way for Motsepe, according to the office of Senegalese candidate Augustin Senghor. No agreement was reached.
Motsepe, a mining magnate, is the brother-in-law of South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and the owner of South African club Mamelodi Sundowns. Infantino met with Ramaphosa in Cape Town last month.
After Infantino completed his tour, his top aides traveled to Morocco, where the challengers met in Rabat. The city will also host the election next week.
The candidates are set meet again this weekend at a soccer tournament in Mauritania.
FIFA presidents have long courted Africa, which has 54 voters among the 211 member federations.