New boss' huge task

New Fifa president Gianni Infantino has welcomed the challenges ahead and vows to restore the governing body’s image after a series of corruption scandals.
New Fifa president Gianni Infantino has welcomed the challenges ahead and vows to restore the governing body’s image after a series of corruption scandals. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Infantino gets strong mandate to revive Fifa and tackle graft as sponsors demand changes

ZURICH • Gianni Infantino vowed to lead world football's scandal-tainted governing body into a new era after going from unlikely candidate to new Fifa president.

The Uefa general secretary scored a surprise, convincing victory in the battle to replace the disgraced Sepp Blatter, whose 18-year reign ended with Fifa mired in unprecedented crisis.

Infantino, a Swiss-Italian, defeated Asian rival and favourite Sheikh Salman Ebrahim Al-Khalifa in the second round of balloting, winning 115 of 207 votes on Friday.

An upset already looked on the cards when Infantino secured the most first-round votes (88), with Asian Football Confederation leader Sheikh Salman receiving 85.

"We will restore the image of Fifa and the respect of Fifa and everyone in the world will applaud us," Infantino said after becoming just the ninth president in Fifa's 112-year history.

"Fifa has gone through sad times, moments of crisis, but those times are over. We need to implement the reform and implement good governance and transparency. We also need to have respect."

KEEPING IT IN THE FAMILY

I’m happy that Gianni Infantino is president, a man from (the Swiss region of) Oberwallis like me. I drank some mulled wine with him at Christmas time, gave him tips.

SEPP BLATTER, former Fifa president

Current and former officials believe Infantino's election should give Fifa the time it needs to begin tackling the corruption and other problems that have dragged it into its lowest point.

OBVIOUS CHOICE

He was always promoting the most aggressive reforms. He knows football.

FRANCOIS CARRARD, who headed Fifa’s independent reform committee.

Fifa also on Friday signed off on a slew of reforms that may help restore its credibility, even as dozens of its personnel past and present face criminal investigations in the United States and Switzerland.

GET ON WITH THEJOB

Our expectation is that Fifa will also take swiftand immediate action in instilling a culture committed to transparency, accountability,and integrity.

VISA, one of Fifa’s major sponsors, in a statement

That package should mean the Infantino faces much closer scrutiny than Blatter did - his salary will be published for the first time - and have less influence over the day-to-day management of the organisation's business affairs.

HE’LL CLEAN UP THE MESS

Infantino,he was the brain of Uefa. He’s a guy who can speak six or seven languages, a lawyer who is familiar with all the little details. He sorted out Uefa, he can sort out Fifa also.

MICHAL LISTKIEWICZ, former president of the Polish football federation.

The reforms include term limits for top officials 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.

OUT OF THE PICTURE

I don’t even know who is running.

JACK WARNER,disgraced former Concacaf president, claiming he had no interest in Friday’s election.

"He has a massive task of course, but he can start work in a totally different atmosphere than the one surrounding Fifa for the last few years," Per Ravn Omdal, a former president of the Norwegian FA and Fifa executive committee member during Blatter's early years in charge, said.

One Fifa insider who asked not to be named said it may also help that the organisation did not pick Sheikh Salman, who had repeatedly had to deny any role in his country's crackdown on pro-democracy protests five years ago.

"If Sheikh Salman had won this election, becoming president after allegations against him involving human rights abuses, the attention from the justice authorities would have been unrelenting," he said.

"The temperature would have gone past boiling point. We can all take a step back now."

Greg Dyke, chairman of the English Football Association, also welcomed Infantino's win.

"He's not a politician. He's not a superstar. He's just very together, very organised," Dyke said. "He has run Uefa really well and he'll be great as the president of Fifa."

Infantino will have it all to do as Swiss authorities continue to investigate Fifa's management and the awarding of hosting rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. He also faces pressing financial problems.

Acting secretary-general Markus Kattner said "general uncertainty" caused by the crisis meant Fifa was US$550 million (S$774 million) behind in its US$5 billion budget target for 2015-2018. And sponsors - key to Fifa's financial might - are awaiting tangible change.

Soft-drink giant Coca-Cola, a major sponsor, said in a statement that deeds, not words, regarding accountability will be the critical factor in judging future support of Infantino's Fifa.

Infantino has welcomed the challenges ahead. "I will work tirelessly to bring football back to Fifa and Fifa back to football, this is what we want to do," said the 45-year-old.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 28, 2016, with the headline 'New boss' huge task'. Print Edition | Subscribe