FIFA chief Infantino meets Zimbabwe’s Mugabe


Harare (AFP) – FIFA president Gianni Infantino met Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe on Friday a day after he attended a birthday party for the country’s football chief, an official said.

Zimbabwe Football Association spokesman Xolisani Gwesela confirmed to AFP that Infantino had paid a courtesy call on Mugabe at State House, but gave no details.

The 46-year-old Swiss-Italian jetted into Harare from Johannesburg on Thursday to attend the birthday party of Zimbabwe football chief Philip Chiyangwa.

“It’s really a pleasure to be here, I feel at home, away from home,” Infantino, who was the guest of honour at the birthday, said in a speech in which he refered to Chiyangwa as “my dear friend and brother.

“My presence here is to celebrate a man whose love for the beautiful game I do not doubt,” he said, adding he first met Chiyangwa on a bus in South Africa in the run up to the FIFA presidential election.

There they discussed football, “our love for the game and desire to see it develop in Africa and across the world”.

Gwesela said 12 football association presidents from across Africa, politicians and other high-profile personalities attended the party at a five-star hotel where Chiyangwa wore a light pink suit and pink shoes.

The party was to jointly celebrate Chiyangwa’s 58th birthday and his election as COSAFA president.

Chiyangwa, recently elected head of southern Africa football umbrella football body COSAFA, has come under fire over his birthday celebrations.

CAF president Issa Hayatou has condemned the Zimbabwean for inviting to the party various non-COSAFA African officials.

Chiyangwa is campaign manager for Ahmad Ahmad, a former Malagasy government minister who is challenging Hayatou on March 16 for the CAF presidency.

Hayatou, who has ruled CAF for 29 years, reportedly believed the party was a front and the real purpose was to rally support for Ahmad.

The Cameroonian, who is seeking an eighth four-year term as head of the Cairo-based organisation, has been challenged for the post only twice.

CAF did not support Infantino in the 2016 FIFA elections, publicly backing Bahraini Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa instead.

Nigerian Football Association president Amaju Pinnick described Chiyangwa as “an astute leader and the future of African football”.

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