By Clement Uwiringiyimana
KIGALI (Reuters) - Bahrain’s Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa received a major boost in his bid to become the next FIFA president when he received an endorsement from the Confederation of African Football on Friday.
The governing body of soccer in Africa, which has 54 full voting members, said the Asian Football Confederation president was its preferred candidate for the poll in Zurich on Feb. 26, CAF vice-president Suketu Patel told reporters.
"CAF will give full support to Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa toward his candidacy for the FIFA presidency," said Patel, who declined to answer questions.
Salman already has the backing of his own confederation while his closest rival, Swiss Gianni Infantino, the UEFA general secretary, has the backing of his European body along with the 10-member South American confederation, CONMEBOL.
However, the FIFA vote will be a secret ballot and the support of executive committees for candidates does not necessarily translate into a united block of votes.
The decision is a blow to the hopes of South African candidate Tokyo Sexwale, who had been aiming to get the support of his own continent but has recently been under pressure to withdraw.
A spokesman for Sexwale was not immediately available to comment.
The CAF listened to presentations from Sheikh Salman, Sexwale, Infantino and Frenchman Jerome Champagne, the former FIFA deputy general secretary, who had all traveled to Rwanda to attend the meeting. The fifth candidate, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan, did not attend.
(Additional reporting and writing by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Kevin Liffey)