Gianni Infantino, the New Leader of World Football
As the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association) Presidential elections neared, soccer fans were left wondering: Who can restore transparency and efficiency to the organization so plagued by the tyrannical reign of Sepp Blatter?
The organization responsible for running the footballing world elected Gianni Infantino, former Secretary General of UEFA (Union of European Football Associations) new leader on February 26, 2016. Most pundits heavily favored Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain to win the election, but Infantino edged out Sheikh Salman in the second round of voting by a count of 115 to 88.
Prior to the election, former FIFA President Sepp Blatter and UEFA President Michel Platini, the man who was widely viewed as Blatter’s likely replacement, were banned from all soccer related activities for 8 years under corruption charges. After the ban, soccer fans across the world celebrated as if their countries had just won the World Cup, seeing the ban as an end to the dictatorial era of Blatter as well as a chance for a new, less corrupt organization led by a competent new President.
And according to most, Gianni Infantino is just the man to usher in reform and good governance to the plagued FIFA. English Football Association Chairman Greg Dyke hailed Infantino as a “straightforward guy,” while American FIFA Executive Sunil Gulati described the election as “a good day for the sport.” The approval of such high-ranking, respected officials demonstrates Infantino’s competence and widely regarded expertise.
In his acceptance speech, Infantino asserted “I’m a candidate of the whole world and football. We have to build bridges, not walls.” He also said to the fans of the sport, “I want to be the president of all of you. I travelled through the globe and I will continue to do this. I want to work with all of you to restore and rebuild a new era where we can put football in the centre of the stage.” He additionally stated that “the money of FIFA has to be used to develop football”—unlike Blatter, Infantino wants to serve the fans and the game and not himself.
In order to do that, Infantino wants to work on ending corruption and instituting transparency. At UEFA, Infantino ran the organization free of corruption (except on the part of his boss Platini) and, for the most part, conflict. Most of his ideas about how to reform FIFA involve transparency and tighter regulations on governance, something the organization could use after continuing allegations of fraud.
Infantino is known as the guy who will run the organization, eliminate corruption, and leave the intricacies of global soccer to itself. Football is inherently an organic game, and shouldn’t need sweeping and often biased regulations by any governing body, especially not a corrupt one.
Infantino is also a capable financial leader for the organization. He led UEFA through one of the most prosperous periods financially in its history, and managed the many details of the organization efficiently and without conflict. This pleased shareholders and member nations of UEFA and led to his high respectability among soccer’s elite. His time at UEFA also gives him good relationships with many European nations, which often play the largest role in reformatory and financial decisions.
Using his experience, Infantino will be able to correct FIFA’s $550 million deficit, putting it on a path to success before the upcoming 2018 World Cup in Russia. One of FIFA’s biggest problems has been its financial stability, usually relying on revenue from one World Cup to carry it over until the next. Infantino has outlined his plans to fix this problem in his manifesto and will set up FIFA for long-term financial success for the first time in its history.
One important issue that occupied a central role in the campaign for President of FIFA was the expansion of the World Cup. Most candidates weren’t in favor of expansion because it would only dilute the quality of play and make each game less exciting and anticipated than they are now.
Infantino, however, is in favor of expanding the World Cup to include more nations. This could make the World Cup even more popular, as fans in nations whose teams are now competitors (at least in the group stages) will tune in to watch. This would also increase the revenues gained from the competition through larger TV deals and sponsorships, and therefore FIFA and its member nations will prosper as well.
But the World Cup shouldn’t be about money, it should be about the game. Expanding it to lesser teams will make the quality of the game we see at the pinnacle of the sport decline. The easiest compromise would be to expand the qualification process in order to reach the World Cup so fans whose teams don’t make it to the latter stages can support their nation even more than they can now without diminishing the World Cup itself. It will be a difficult and long process for Infantino to expand the competition, but fans of the game on either side of the issue will be watching closely to see what he will do about this crucial decision.
Like anyone (or anything) else, Infantino has his pros and cons. He will reform FIFA, eliminate corruption, ensure transparency, leave the game largely untouched, and will help FIFA along the path towards long-term financial success. However, he could alter the game’s most important competition to improve its finances, harming the World Cup and sport overall in the process.
But, it is safe to say, he will be much better than the former leadership of Sepp Blatter, and will turn FIFA into the governing body fans of soccer across the globe have long been awaiting.
Gianni Infantino, here’s to a better FIFA.