The 73rd edition of the FIFA Congress, where a Presidential election is due to take place, has been scheduled for Kigali in Rwanda on March 16 next year.
An election timeline was approved by the FIFA Council at its meeting in March in Doha, where current President Gianni Infantino announced he would stand for re-election.
Infantino, who is an International Olympic Committee member, was first elected as FIFA President in February 2016 in the wake of the corruption scandal which brought down predecessor Sepp Blatter.
The Swiss-Italian then won a second term when he stood unopposed for re-election at the Congress in Paris in 2019.
Infantino has enjoyed particularly strong support from Africa during his Presidency,
This has included the Confederation of African Football (CAF) supporting the idea of a biennial World Cup – something Infantino has now moved to distance himself from – and the CAF publicly backing Infantino when he faced backlash over comment he made suggesting the proposal could help prevent African migrants from finding “death in the sea”.
South African Patrice Motsepe was elected unopposed as the new CAF President at a General Assembly in Rabat last year.
Motsepe’s election followed Presidential candidates Ahmed Yahya from Mauritania, Ivorian Jacques Anouma and Senegal’s Augustin Senghor dropping out of the race – each after meeting with Infantino.
Infantino denied influencing the election, but also claimed to be “delighted that FIFA has been able to contribute, even if just a little, to this crucial moment for football on this great continent” when it was confirmed that Motsepe would be able to run for the Presidency unopposed.
Infantino currently has no challengers for the Presidency, although his ties with Russia and Saudi Arabia have caused concern in some quarters over whether he is fit to serve as President.
The deadline for candidacies is four months prior to the Congress.
Kigali has already hosted a FIFA Council meeting in October 2018, but its selection as the destination for the Congress will not be without controversy.
Same-sex marriages are not recognised by the state in Rwanda, and activists say that while homosexuality is not outlawed, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community regularly face persecution.
FIFA has celebrated Pride Month but is preparing for the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal, and claims the tournament “will be a celebration of unity and diversity.”
Qatar also hosted this year’s FIFA Congress.
The treatment of Paul Rusesabagina will also give rise to criticism over the choice of Kigali as Congress host.
The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention states Rusesabagina has been illegally kidnapped, tortured, and sentenced after an unfair trial.
In August 2020, he took what he believed to be a flight to Burundi from Dubai but arrived in the Rwandan capital and was arrested on nine charges of terrorism that related to his association with the National Liberation Front political party.
“It is clear on the facts that Mr Rusesabagina has been targeted by the Government on account of his work as a human rights defender, because of his criticism of the Government on a broad range of human rights issues, including unfair elections and a lack of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of association and freedom of the press,” stated the Working Group.
“He has also challenged cases of arbitrary detention, torture and extrajudicial killings”
Rusesabagina worked as the manager of the Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, during a period in which it housed 1,268 Hutu and Tutsi refugees from the Interahamwe militia during the Rwandan genocide.
His actions, which are credited with saving the lives of hundreds of refugees, were made famous by the film Hotel Rwanda.
The 68-year-old was sentenced to 25 years in prison last year.