Sexwale vows push for free movement of Palestinian footballers

Tokyo Sexwale might lose Africa's support in the FIFA presidential race (AFP Photo/Thomas Coex)

Jericho (Palestinian Territories) (AFP) - FIFA presidential hopeful Tokyo Sexwale pledged on Wednesday to push for free movement for Palestinian footballers during a visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The South African, who currently heads FIFA's Monitoring Committee for Israel and Palestine, said he was seeking to "ensure that the game of football is not trapped in political as well as security related pressures."

Palestinian footballers routinely complain of being unable to attend matches due to Israel's stringent restrictions on movement.

Speaking after what he called "intense" discussions with the heads of the Israeli and Palestinian football associations, Sexwale said his priority was to facilitate the movement of "officials, players, spectators... who are going to be moving particularly (in the West Bank) and Gaza."

"It is not just about movement. It is about the prevention of people, some of whom are arrested or detained during the processes," he said, pledging to work with Israeli authorities to convince them to ease restrictions.

The millionaire businessman, who was jailed alongside Nelson Mandela under apartheid rule, is among the candidates to replace Sepp Blatter as president of world football's governing body in next February's elections.

He pledged again to salvage the reputation of FIFA, which has been hit by a string of corrpution scandals.

He has previously promised to "follow the money" to clean the sport, a task he stresses is helped by his status as a relative outsider.

A scandal over allegations of multi-million dollar bribes for the awarding of tournament hosting rights and broadcast contracts has upended FIFA, leading to the suspension of long-time president Blatter and several other top officials.

The other candidates to replace Blatter include Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan, UEFA general-secretary Gianni Infantino, Asian football head Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain and Jerome Champagne, a former assistant general secretary of FIFA.