Football: Infantino pledges to kick down Fifa's walls

Fifa candidate Gianni Infantino unveils his manifesto for the Fifa Presidential campaign at Wembley Stadium in London, Britain, on Feb 1, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

LONDON (AFP) - Fifa presidential candidate Gianni Infantino would mark a clean break with the organisation's troubled recent past by appointing more women and non-Europeans to senior roles, he told AFP on Monday (Feb 1).

Infantino, 45, said he would quickly look to replace sacked general secretary Jerome Valcke if he wins the election on Feb 26.

All 10 previous general secretaries, including disgraced former president Sepp Blatter, have been men from western Europe and Infantino believes having someone from a different background in the post would mark a fresh start in Fifa's corridors of power.

"It's about opening up Fifa, being open, being transparent, being inclusive," he said in an interview at London's Wembley Stadium, where he revealed his plans for the first 90 days of his tenure.

"I think Fifa as a worldwide organisation has to be inclusive, has to have more women, has to have people from all over the world in administration that are not only good executives in Switzerland or Germany or France.

"There are good executives all over the world and I think if Fifa wants to gain respect it has to embrace good people from everywhere."

Infantino faces competition from Bahrain's Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa, South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale, Jordan's Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, a former Fifa vice-president, and former Fifa official Jerome Champagne of France in the vote of Fifa's 209 federations.

Sheikh Salman has stated that he would be open to striking a deal with Infantino, his fellow front-runner for world football's top job.

But Infantino, who already has declarations of support from UEFA and the South American confederation, CONMEBOL, said he would not agree to work under another candidate.

"No, definitely not," said the Swiss lawyer, who has been UEFA's general secretary since 2009. "I take this very, very seriously.

"If I'm elected I will be Fifa president on Feb 26. If I'm not elected, there are no deals to be made or being made."

Infantino only joined the presidential race in October after UEFA president Michel Platini was provisionally suspended over a US$2 million "disloyal" payment from Blatter, which eventually saw both men banned for eight years.

But he rejected the suggestion that he would be seen as a second-choice candidate and said he had felt a moral responsiblity to act after US and Swiss authorities targeted FIFA in wide-ranging corruption probes.

"It's true that until a few months ago I was not thinking about being a candidate, but in life sometimes there are situations where you have to take decisions," Infantino said.

"When I saw what is going on, I thought you simply cannot sit and lean back and watch everything being destroyed or destroy itself. You have to do something. You have to do something for football.

"And with this motivation, this commitment, I'm running in this campaign and confident of making it." Infantino was joined at Wembley by football luminaries including Jose Mourinho, Fabio Capello, Luis Figo and Roberto Carlos, all of whom are supporting his campaign.

He said that their backing showed the hunger for change within the sport.

"Since I was small, my father injected the virus of football in me," he said. "I tried to play. I played at all the lowest possible levels.

"I have this passion for football. It's something you can't explain. When you have a virus, you have it or you don't have it. There are quite a lot of people in the world who have it.

"I didn't enter from the main door as a football player, but from the window as a lawyer in football.

"The magic of football is also this, that you have some of the legends of the game who work together with one of the worst players in the history of the game, like me, sharing exactly the same passion for the game."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.