Gianni Infantino: ‘We will restore the image of Fifa’
New Fifa president vows to restore Fifa’s name after ongoing corruption scandals
The new Fifa President Gianni Infantino gestures during a press conference after the Extraordinary Fifa Congress at Hallenstadion on Friday night. Phtoograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images
Uefa general secretary Gianni Infantino vowed on Friday to lead Fifa, the sport’s world governing body, out of years of corruption and scandal after being elected president to succeed his Swiss compatriot Sepp Blatter.
“We will restore the image of Fifa and the respect of Fifa, and everyone in the world will be proud of us,” the 45-year-old law graduate, who for the last seven years has been the leading administrator for Europe’s governing body, told an extraordinary Fifa Congress in Zurich.
After a first round of voting in which he narrowly beat Asian Football Confederation President Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain, Infantino appeared to gather up almost all the votes that had been cast for the two trailing candidates. He won 115 of the 207 votes in the second round, giving him a simple majority.
Infantino owed his candidacy to the fact that Europe’s preferred candidate, his former boss, Uefa president Michel Platini, was banned from football last year along with Blatter for ethics violations.
Words for Platini
Following his victory Infantino had supportive words for his former boss, Platini, the man who had at one point been seen widely as the man most likely to become Fifa’s next president. “I thank Michel Platini for everything that he has taught me and given me and the work we have done together,” he says. “I have strong, dear thoughts for Mr Michel Platini right now.
“I feel a lot of emotion and have not realised yet what has happened today. It is still very fresh and it’s been a long and exciting journey and I probably need some time to chill out and see what has happened.”
Only the ninth president in Fifa’s 112-year history, he inherits a very different job from that inhabited by Blatter, who toured the world for 17 years like a head of state, dispensing development funds to his global support base.
Before the election, the Congress had overwhelmingly passed a set of reforms intended to make Fifa more transparent, professional and accountable.
That package should mean the new president faces much closer scrutiny than Blatter did, and have less influence over the day-to-day management of the organisation’s business affairs.
The reforms include term limits for top officials and disclosure of earnings, and a clear separation between an elected Fifa Council responsible for broad strategy and a professional general secretariat, akin to a company’s executive board, handling the business side.
Infantino’s campaign did not at first glance mark a dramatic change from the naked financial appeals of past elections as he promised member federations more money in his quest for support, and an expansion of the World Cup finals to 40 teams from 32.
But unlike most of the other candidates, Infantino can point to the fact that he never served under Blatter in Fifa’s tainted leadership, having worked for Uefa since 2000.
Sheikh Salman, the bookmakers’ favourite, had been on Fifa’s executive since 2013, and had had to repeatedly deny allegations from rights groups that he had been involved in or known about the detention and torture of Bahraini players in 2011 at the height of a crackdown on anti-government protests.
Following Blatter’s 17-year reign, Infantino’s election maintains Europe’s stranglehold on the running of world soccer, and European officials were quick to welcome the result.
“It is the first time in a long time that I have felt happy about anything to do with Fifa,” said Executive Committee member Michel D’Hooghe of Belgium. “(Infantino) is a young, dynamic man who has done a superb job at Uefa.”
Uefa executive committee member Karen Espelund of Norway said: “We needed someone credible, we needed a clean winner, a clean man, and I believe we have that in Gianni.”
Much of Infantino’s pitch centred on his commercial acumen; during his seven years as Uefa general secretary, revenue from Europe’s club competitions has grown dramatically, but so has inequality between the rich, powerful elite clubs in Europe’s four big leagues and the rest.
Many of the skills now required will, however, be in crisis management.
Infantino will hope for at least a brief honeymoon after the firestorm that broke out last May when seven soccer executives due to attend a previous Congress were arrested on suspicion of corruption in a dawn raid on their Zurich hotel.
Blatter survived long enough to win re-election at that Congress, but stepped down four days later as the scandals took their toll.
Since then, criminal investigations in the United States and Switzerland have resulted in the indictment of dozens of soccer officials and other entities for corruption, many of them serving or former presidents of national or continental associations.
In addition, Fifa has been forced to investigate controversies surrounding the awarding of its showpiece, the World Cup finals, especially the decision to grant the 2018 tournament to Russia and the 2022 finals to Qatar, a small, scorching desert state with little soccer tradition.
Swiss authorities are reviewing more than 150 reports of suspicious financial activity linked to those awards, and said on Thursday they had sent more documents including an internal Fifa report to US investigators.
Many key sponsorship deals have been put on hold until Fifa can be seen to have cleaned up its act, resulting in a deficit for 2015, an official said on Thursday.
Infantino welcomed that challenge.
“Fifa has gone through sad times ... We are going to win back ... respect and finally focus once again on this beautiful world that is football,” he said.
“The election has taken place and we have turned the page. I am not a candidate of Europe, I am a candidate of football and football is universal.”