New FIFA boss Infantino faces major challenges

Photo credit: AFP

Photo credit: AFP

FIFA’s new president Gianni Infantino on Saturday faced the mountainous task of reforming and uniting world football, with a pile of crises from the scandal-ridden Sepp Blatter era needing urgent action.

Infantino, an executive at European football confederation UEFA, promised an end to the dark days at FIFA following his convincing election win.

But the 45-year-old Swiss-Italian national was immediately met with multiple challenges, as football powerful players including key corporate partners must still be convinced that FIFA can mend its ways.

Infantino will also have to prioritize the interests of developing football nations in Asia and Africa, two continents that publicly backed election runner-up Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa on hopes that a non-European would lead FIFA after Swiss national Blatter’s 18-year presidency.

“We will work tirelessly, starting with myself,” the shaven-headed, multi-lingual new FIFA boss said. “You will be proud of FIFA. You will be proud of what FIFA will do for football.”

– Questions on reform –

Infantino said governance reforms passed just hours before his election win were “groundbreaking” and that implementing them would be a priority.

They include changes to FIFA’s management, limiting Infantino’s powers compared to the authority held by Blatter.

There will be a 12-year term limit for top officials and salaries will be disclosed. The all-powerful executive committee will be renamed a FIFA council and football’s multi-billion dollar business activities will be run separately from football politics.

But there was no decision to create an outside watchdog that has been widely demanded as the only way to solve FIFA’s corruption crisis.

Top World Cup sponsors like credit-card giant Visa said after the vote that “independent oversight of the reforms” was still the best strategy to ensure real change.

Infantino has promised to bring in “independent and respected voices” to FIFA but has not given details.

Experts said that corporate partners — who demanded an end to the sleaze that came to characterize the Blatter era — will be watching to see if Infantino’s desire to make changes goes beyond rhetoric.

Jeff Thinnes, a US consultant to global corporations on ethics and governance, told AFP that the FIFA vote is “only a start.”

– Unity push –

“Given the culture of FIFA, a very corrupt culture down through the national associations, it is going to be a long slog before what is on paper becomes what is in practice,” he said.

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