Doha (AFP) - Africa's FIFA presidential contender Tokyo Sexwale said Sunday he would not "run away" after South African newspaper reports claimed he may be asked to pull out.
Two newspapers said Sexwale risked losing the continent's backing ahead of a meeting on Friday of the 53-member Confederation of African Football (CAF) in Kigali to decide which candidate to support.
Speaking in Doha on the sidelines of the Asian under-23 championships, Sexwale said he would not withdraw.
"I am still running and not running away. I am still in the FIFA race," he told AFP.
He added that barring an "earth-shattering occurrence" he would remain in the election race until the vote in Switzerland on February 26.
Earlier, an unnamed South African Football Association (SAFA) executive member was quoted by the local Sunday Times weekly saying that "we have been told that he is not taking the African continent seriously".
"And just about everybody on the continent says he must withdraw from the presidential race," said the official.
The City Press, another South African Sunday paper, cited an unnamed SAFA official saying the business tycoon may be dropped if he did not get CAF's backing on February 5.
Sexwale though received the backing of SAFA, which rejected suggestions that the football body was unhappy with Sexwale.
Dennis Mumble, SAFA's president said in a statement that a meeting the association called with Sexwale last week was "merely to receive an update on the next steps of his campaign ... and not to convey a decision ... on the viability or otherwise of Mr Sexwale's candidacy, as some media reports indicate".
There has, however, been criticism of the campaign by Sexwale, one of five rivals bidding for the leadership of scandal-tainted FIFA.
"We are in the dark and we do not know as neighbours what his strategies are. Maybe they do not need our vote," Namibia's Football Association president Frans Mbidi told the Sunday Times.
Zimbabwe Football Association's president Phillip Chiyangwa was quoted by the Sunday Times as saying: "South Africa and their candidate are not doing good enough to enlist our support".
Last week Sexwale said the next FIFA leader must come from Africa or Asia and that he was ready to form an alliance to stop a European candidate.
"I am focused on making sure that the president of FIFA comes from either Africa or Asia, not Europe," Sexwale told South Africa's Metro radio on Thursday.
- Pope Francis example -
A Roman Catholic, Sexwale he told AFP on Sunday that the FIFA leader should not always come from the same geographical region and pointed to the success of Pope Francis, an Argentine, after the Vatican selected a non-European pontiff.
"I think you can keep on changing popes without moving the Vatican," he said.
Sexwale, an anti-apartheid prisoner with Nelson Mandela who became a businessman and politician, also raised the possibility of some candidates joining forces.
"The time for alliances is... coming, and it's healthy, it's democratic and it's good," he said. "Now we are talking... we are brothers, we are colleagues."
He did not name his allies, but the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) this month signed a cooperation accord with the CAF.
The other candidates in the race are AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain, UEFA's Swiss-Italian general secretary Gianni Infantino, Jordan's Prince Ali bin al Hussein, a former FIFA vice president, and French former FIFA official Jerome Champagne.