FIFA Elects A New President. Is Infantino A New Hope Or Business As Usual?

FIFA announced earlier today that they have elected a new president. According to a report from Al Jazeera, the new face of the administrative arm of the biggest sporting congress is UEFA secretary Gianni Infantino. The new president was voted in by 115 of the 207 members of the league’s electorate, besting Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa of Bahrain by 27 votes. The elections went to another round after the first failed to produce a winner by the required minimum majority of 104 votes.

Infantino is preceded by Issa Hayatou, who acted as interim president of FIFA after Sepp Blatter was removed from the position. Both of Infantino’s predecessors have tarnished reputations that have led to a degree of distrust in the organization. Blatter was removed from his role as president last year amid allegations of financial mismanagement and corruption. His replacement was also investigated after accusations surfaced that he had taken bribes for FIFA broadcast rights.

In his acceptance speech, Infantino addressed the league’s problems in oblique terms. He kept his message positive and talked of rebuilding trust.

“I accept the result of this election, thank you. I went through an exceptional journey, met many fantastic people who love football, who breathe football. I want to be the president of all of you. It is time to return to football. FIFA has gone through hard times, crisis times. These times are over… We have to win back the respect, and focus on this wonderful game that is football. I want to work with all of you to work together and build a new era where we can put football at the centre of the stage.”

Not everyone is feeling the love. The Guardian reports that FIFPro, a player’s union, is not as optimistic the new president will fulfill his promise that things will change. Their statement declared FIFA’s new president as a sign of more business as usual.

“Despite a package of reforms approved today by FIFA, FIFPro fears placing increased power in the hands of FIFA’s 209 member associations lies at the heart of the problem. These organisations are not representative of the game and, yet, wield enormous influence over issues that affect key stakeholders such as the players, fans, clubs and leagues. The newly-adopted reforms failed to address the fundamental issue of making football authorities accountable to the game’s most important actors.”

In spite of the expressed skepticism from some quarters in the football community, there are arguments that Infantino could give FIFA the stability it needs. The 45-year-old president has worked in the legal and administrative arenas of football for the last fifteen years. The Swiss-Italian lawyer has served as counsel and general secretary for the Union of European Football Associations and was secretary general of the International center for Sports Studies, an academic think tank that investigates the policies and social function of sports.

Reuters reports that among the reforms the new president of FIFA wants to see is an expansion to 40 teams at the World Cup. This would allow smaller countries would have a better chance at competing. As president, Infantino has also promised to work for funding to develop football for all member associations in FIFA, something that would benefit many of those under-represented associations.

The big story at this FIFA congress was the election, but the members had other business at hand. Before the voting took place, FIFA voted in a number of reforms to avoid any future occurrences of malfeasance from its top administrators. Reuters published a partial laundry list of policy safeguards: further development and gender parity in regards to women’s football, a toothier human rights standard, a three-term limit for all presidents and transparency of salaries for all members of FIFA upper management. The election could indicate changes are ahead for FIFA, from the pitch to the president.

[Photo by Matthais Hangst/Getty Images]