February 26, 2016 / 1:02 PM / 3 years ago

Tokyo Sexwale pulls out before first round of FIFA presidential vote

FIFA presidential candidate Tokyo Sexwale of South Africa makes a speech during the Extraordinary FIFA Congress in Zurich, Switzerland February 26, 2016. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

ZURICH (Reuters) - Tokyo Sexwale withdrew from the FIFA presidential race minutes before the vote on Friday, announcing his decision at the very end of his candidate’s speech.

“I have got a surprise for you: my campaign ends today and I suspend my participation. With only four people, it is your problem now,” he told delegates at the extraordinary FIFA Congress.

“I am prepared to serve under the new president.”

The South African businessman and politician was one of five candidates standing to lead soccer’s scandal-plagued governing body out of the worst crisis in its 112-year history.

“Our house is under attack,” he said in his speech. “Pressures, media, litigation, the world is waiting out there, they think this is the end of FIFA.”

Quoting late South African president Nelson Mandela, he said: “When your house is under attack, when we are subjected to the kind of things we are seeing, it is the not the right moment to start a fire in your house.”

There has been speculation throughout Sexwale’s low-key campaign that he could pull out, but he began his speech by saying: “I am a soldier and I die with my boots on.”

Sexwale had not been backed by his own African soccer confederation, with CAF making public in January its support of Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain.

Reporting by Simon Evans; Writing by Brian Homewood; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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