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FFA hails Gianni Infantino as FIFA boss, no fears over Asian backlash

Australian soccer chiefs have backed the election of Swiss football administrator Gianni Infantino as the president of the sport's trouble-torn governing body FIFA, arguing the 45-year-old general secretary of Europe's peak body, UEFA, is a reform candidate who can orchestrate the badly needed clean out of the corrupt mire that FIFA has become.

The Football Federation Australia delegation is also confident its decision to support Prince Ali of Jordan in the opening two rounds of voting rather than the preferred Asian Football Confederation candidate, AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain, will not produce any blowback for Australia in the Asian region.

Man in charge: The new FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
Man in charge: The new FIFA president Gianni Infantino. Photo: Getty Images

Historically, nations from so-called West Asia – the Middle East – have not been Australia's biggest supporters as members of the Asian football block, and the decision to throw Australia's initial vote behind the outsider Prince Ali rather than the favoured candidate, Sheikh Salman, will not have pleased many.

They regard the Socceroos as a huge on-field threat that has three times since Australia joined the AFC in 2006 denied a Middle Eastern country the chance to qualify for the World Cup.

Australia backed Prince Ali chiefly because he was a reformer. But the FFA board was concerned over transparency issues and, it is understood, the "noise" surrounding Sheikh Salman over issues of human rights and vote rigging in previous elections.

FFA chairman Steven Lowy was in Zurich for the vote on who would succeed disgraced former boss Sepp Blatter.

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He said Infantino was a man of great football experience who understood the game from top to bottom and could implement the administrative reform badly needed of the game, which has been, for so long, used as a cash cow by corrupt executives.

"Our reaction [to Infantino's election] is very positive," Lowy said from Switzerland on Saturday morning.

"Today was really a watershed day for FIFA. It feels like the best day FIFA has had in a very long time, where transformational reforms were put into place re governance, transparency, gender equality, separation of council and board executive powers.

"These are all positive things for FIFA and the game in general.

"Our initial support was for Prince Ali because we felt he was a serious reform candidate with strong credentials, but, as he was not successful, we are very pleased that Gianni was elected.

"He has a deep experience of the game, he himself is a reform candidate. We have met Gianni on numerous occasions in the past few months and are hugely impressed with his energy, capability and experience ...

"We believe world football will rally around him, that the reforms that are absolutely necessary to regain the respect and pride of FIFA will be enacted with conviction."

The FFA delegation was transparent with the rest of the Asian block and met with Sheikh Salman's aides and supporters to explain why they were voting for Prince Ali.

"It was no secret that Australia was pledging its support for Prince Ali," Lowy said.

"He is a very credible candidate from Asia. It was very important that Australia took a position that, if there was a candidate from Asia, we would support that candidate in the first instance. That was no surprise to Sheik Salman because we had made it known to him once our board had made that decision [following a hook up with Lowy and FFA chief executive David Gallop, who were on the ground in Zurich].

Lowy was adamant there would not be any reprisals taken against Australia as a result.

"We don't expect any repercussions for that. We voted for a very credible candidate.

"Australia is a very important contributor to Asia on and off the field," Lowy said. "It's an important contributor commercially, through football development."

Australia was planning to increase its commitment in the near future, he said.

Infantino's election ensured the game's control rested with its European powerhouse. The Swiss only emerged as a candidate when UEFA boss Michel Platini was suspended, then banned, for six years for accepting a "disloyal payment" from Blatter in 2011, preventing the former French international from standing.

Despite the goodwill, Infantino faced an enormous task in cleaning up the mess left behind by Blatter, where FIFA became a byword for cronyism and corruption.

Infantino won on the second round of voting over Sheikh Salman by 115 votes to 88.

He had won the first round of voting by 88-85 with Prince Ali in third place on 27 and former FIFA executive Jerome Champagne in fourth with seven. The second round of voting showed how much support dissipated from Sheikh Salman, who only picked up three extra supporters.

A jubilant Infantino said: "I want to be the president of all of you. FIFA has gone through sad times, moments of crisis. But those times are over."

That remained to be seen. Entrenched cronyism and corruption are notoriously difficult to eliminate, but the prevailing mood, said Lowy, was for wholesale change and a fresh start.