Robson Sharuko Senior Sports Editor
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has refused to be bullied by the ugly politics triggered by the CAF leadership by confirming he will travel to Harare next week for a landmark visit he hopes will lay the foundation for football’s success in this country.
Infantino is scheduled to arrive in Harare on Thursday evening and then leave the next day, in a visit pregnant with football political baggage after CAF boss Issa Hayatou expressed his reservations to the possibility of a gathering of football leaders in Harare next week.
Hayatou, the long-serving CAF president, faces a battle to retain his hold on the leadership of football on the continent next month and believes the football leaders who will converge in Harare next weekend will be using the occasion to campaign for his rival Ahmad Ahmad of Madagascar.
ZIFA president Philip Chiyangwa insists the gathering is a glitzy bash to celebrate his belated birthday and also his rise to become the COSAFA president and has invited Infantino to be the guest of honour at the show.
A number of football leaders from across the continent are also expected to gather in the capital.
Chiyangwa is the election manager of Ahmad, but has insisted that next weekend’s bash has nothing to do with the CAF elections just like the convergence of football leaders, in Gabon recently, for the 2017 Nations Cup finals, including scores of others whose nations did not feature at the AFCON showcase.
The Harare businessman has even demanded an apology from Hayatou, in a show of bravery rarely seen in the trenches of African football where the Cameroonian strongman has ruled with an iron fist, saying the CAF president was wrong to suggest he was organising a rebellion to destabilise the organisation.
There had been fears that the politics will blow Infantino from visiting Zimbabwe but the youthful FIFA boss, who is now celebrating a year as the head of world football, has refused to be sucked into the political battles.
Instead, he has confirmed, in a personal letter to Chiyangwa, that he will make the trip to Harare after visiting South Africa next week.
“I would like to thank you for your letter dated January 8, 2017, and for your kind invitation to visit your country this month,” Infantino wrote in his letter.
“I am very pleased to confirm my visit.
“This will take place in connection with my trip to South Africa for the FIFA Executive Summit in Johannesburg which will take place from 21 to 23 February 2017.
“I will be arriving in Harare on Thursday 23 January 2017 at around 1800 and leaving on Friday 24 February 2017 at 1800(the flight details and the FIFA delegation will be communicated in due course).
“I have no doubt that this visit will help us to lay the foundations for further fruitful co-operation and share our personal visions for the continued development of our sport in your country.
“I wish you every success in your upcoming endeavour and look forward to seeing you very soon in Harare.”
The revelation that Chiyangwa invited Infantino to visit Zimbabwe on January 8, long before COSAFA met and agreed to throw their full support behind Ahmad, which then gave the Harare businessman the green-light to be the campaign manager of the Madagascar official, quashes suggestions from Hayatou that this is all part of the politics to topple him from his seat.
Infantino was in Qatar yesterday and he is reported to have dismissed any suggestions of a rift between him and Hayatou, but maintained that he supports the democratic process for elections among the FIFA constituencies.
A Nigerian blogger, Metropolitan Preye, tweeted Infantino’s position.
“FIFA president Gianni Infantino dismisses talk of a rift with CAF boss hayatou, says he supports democratic process for new election.”
Chiyangwa has been inviting a number of African football leaders to come to Harare next week.
“It is with utmost pleasure that I write to you to invite you, in my personal capacity, to celebrate and to mark my victory as COSAFA president and my belated birthday as I was born on the 3rd of February,” reads Chiyangwa’s invitation letter to the African football leaders.
“The celebrations will be held on the 24th of February 2017 in Harare, Zimbabwe. The FIFA president, president Infantino, will grace the occasion as the guest of honour.
“It is my hope that you will find time in your busy schedule to attend these very important and historic celebrations.”
Infantino’s decision to come to Harare will further irk the Hayatou camp who have been panicking amid revelations they now believe they have a tough battle to hang on to the leadership of African football.
The Cameroonian strongman is the last man standing, among the group the game’s old leaders, in the wake of the changes that have emerged after the tsunami that swept away former FIFA boss Sepp Blatter and a lot of his inner circle.