Why It Matters

New head, new hope for Fifa

Last Friday, football's governing body Fifa elected as its president a middle-aged bald Swiss national to replace a balding Swiss septuagenarian. It is widely hoped, though, that the similarities between Mr Gianni Infantino and predecessor Sepp Blatter will end there.

While Mr Infantino is no fool, it remains to be seen if he has the political clout and will to rebuild the broken foundations at Fifa House - the legacy of Mr Blatter and his cronies. The in-tray list is exhaustive; it includes ensuring that the extensive package of governance reforms is fully enforced.

Parallels can be drawn with the International Olympic Committee (IOC), rocked in 1998 by accusations that members took bribes for awarding the 2002 Winter Games to Salt Lake City.

The IOC's reputation was severely tarnished but the incident also became the catalyst for sweeping changes that eventually restored its credibility.

Mr Infantino's stewardship raises interesting prospects for this region. An Asian president would have seen the profile of the game here and of Asians in the global game increase. There was talk of Asian football leaders possibly moving into Fifa, among them a Singaporean. That may now not materialise but Mr Infantino's pledge to appoint a non-European secretary-general could see an Asian occupy the No. 2 post in world football.

His desire to expand the World Cup from 32 to 40 teams in 2026 would see more Asian countries at the showpiece tournament, while the promise of a US$2.5 million (S$3.5 million) increase in financial assistance to all 209 national associations over the next four years will go down well with poorer nations.

He may not represent Fifa's tabula rasa but there is hope that with a new leader comes a fresh start.

The Football Association of Singapore's (FAS) elections, expected by June, offer similar hope. Confidence in the national game is at a new low, with a struggling national team and recent missteps by the FAS. A fresh start could be the tonic local football needs, even as the global game enters a new era.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 29, 2016, with the headline 'New head, new hope for Fifa'. Print Edition | Subscribe