UEFA’s Gianni Infantino said he would work to clean up FIFA from “day one” if elected leader after an evening of close discussions with his Asian rival Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa. Infantino told AFP that he would instigate reforms immediately if he is elected on Feb. 26 to succeed the suspended and deeply controversial Sepp Blatter.
The general secretary of the European body was speaking after sitting side-by-side with Sheikh Salman, another leading contender for FIFA, at Sunday’s Asian football awards near New Delhi.
“Reforms … need to be not only agreed but they need to be implemented as well,” the Italian said late on Sunday.
“So as of day one, 27th of February, you have to start implementing and living the reforms, and from doing it on a day-by-day basis in UEFA I know what it means – good governance, financial transparency, structure of changes that are being proposed.”
Infantino and Sheikh Salman, president of the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), were seen having cordial discussions during the awards ceremony and gala dinner in Gurgaon. A third FIFA candidate, Jordan’s Prince Ali bin Al Hussein, who has been at odds with Sheikh Salman in the past, was seated elsewhere.
Neither Prince Ali or Sheikh Salman were prepared to discuss their FIFA ambitions, but the Bahraini royal gave an indication of Asia’s growing clout and ambition in his opening address.
“For a long time people talked about the future being Asia. I am now convinced that the present is Asia,” Sheikh Salman told the crowd of hundreds of delegates.
“I’m certain that we stand on the very brink of greatness in this continent, the dawning of an Asian age.”
Sheikh Salman and Infantino are shaping as the leading candidates to take over FIFA, after a period of unprecedented turmoil sparked by a series of corruption claims. Sheikh Salman’s bid has strong backing in Asia, one of FIFA’s biggest federations, as well as the heavyweight support of Kuwaiti powerbroker Sheikh Ahmad Al Fahad Al Sabah.
Infantino is Europe’s main candidate, after Michel Platini was suspended over a suspect $2 million payment, and he has also been promised the votes of the 10-member South American confederation. He skirted questioning about the challenge posed by Sheikh Salman, and said what soccer needed was open debate about its future, as well as unity among FIFA’s 209 members:
“Sheikh Salman is obviously the president of a very important confederation, the AFC. It’s normal that he has the backing here, the same as I have the backing in Europe.
“South America has expressed also their backing for me which another important football confederation… what I hope and what I think will happen is we can debate.
“Because what football needs as well is a proper debate on the future. As long we can do that in a constructive way it’s always good.”
He added that it was the “right moment” for changes at FIFA, helmed by the 79-year-old Blatter since 1998 and now trapped in mounting bribery claims, mostly related to the hosting of World Cups.
“There will be reforms and there will be a change of leadership but it’s the right moment because I think really it’s important that when you speak about FIFA, you speak again about football,” he said.
“And not about all the other things which unfortunately are in the headlines for the last period.”
Jerome Champagne and Tokyo Sexwale are the other two candidates hoping to take over from Blatter, who is under investigation by Swiss prosecutors and FIFA’s ethics commission.
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