Sport

New FIFA president Gianni Infantino vows to restore governing body's image

Swiss executive Gianni Infantino has been elected president of FIFA, international football's governing body scarred by a corruption scandal that resulted in numerous indictments and caused immeasurable damage to the world's most popular sport.

A simple majority was required after none of the four candidates earned two-thirds of the votes cast by FIFA's 207 eligible members in the first round. Infantino turned a slight edge on the first ballot (88-85) into decisive victory on the second (115-88).

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein and Jerome Champagne of France were the other candidates. South Africa's Tokyo Sexwale withdrew shortly before voting commenced.

"We will restore the image of FIFA and the respect of FIFA, and everyone in the world will applaud us," Infantino said during his acceptance speech at the convention hall in Zurich. "We have to be proud of what we will do together. I want to work with all of you in order to restore and rebuild a new era in FIFA, a new era where we can again put football in the centre of the stage."

Infantino, whose term runs until May 2019, will have to lead an organisation that was shaken by arrests and indictments last summer and again in the fall. The US Justice Department, in conjunction with Swiss law enforcement, has charged 41 individuals or entities. The investigation also led to the resignation of Blatter, who had ruled FIFA since 1998 and won a fourth term last year. It also led to internal ethics charges against Blatter's likely successor, Michel Platini, head of the European soccer confederation, known as UEFA.

After Platini was banned from running, Infantino, Platini's understudy, announced his candidacy. Infantino had served in UEFA for more than 15 years.

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He ran on a platform that, among other things, pledged greater financial support to every FIFA member and expansion of the World Cup, football's premier competition, to 40 teams from 32. FIFA's broader governing body would need to approve such a change.

The US Soccer Federation voted for Prince Ali on the first ballot, then switched to Infantino on the second. The USSF had supported Ali last year against Blatter and remained loyal to the Jordanian royal. But it also knew Prince Ali would not stand a chance against Infantino and Sheikh Salman on the second ballot.

With Infantino as its second choice, the USSF had prepared all along to switch its allegiance. Several other countries also did so. The election is conducted by secret ballot and most associations do not reveal their choice.

Infantino "understood very clearly we would be with him when it mattered," USSF President Sunil Gulati said. "Right after the first ballot, we got Ali and Gianni together, we had a discussion and good things happened in the second ballot."

Infantino's election was not the only action taken by FIFA. Before the vote, members approved institutional reforms that, in many eyes, was necessary to begin rebuilding trust with fans and sponsors and demonstrate to watchful law enforcement agencies that the organisation was intent on cleaning up its act.

Needing three-quarters approval for passage, the package garnered 179 of the 201 votes cast (89 percent). FIFA said it will implement the reforms in 60 days.

Under the new structure, the FIFA president, council members and committee members will be limited to three terms (12 total years).

The 24-member executive committee - which, among other things, decided the World Cup host - will disband and be replaced by the FIFA Council with 36 members. The president, who had great influence on the executive committee, will serve a more ambassadorial role.

An independent compliance committee will monitor the council structure.

At least six female members will take seats on the council. (Two are on the current executive committee.) Long criticised for insufficient support of women's football, FIFA has also pledged to provide greater resources and require members to meet higher standards.

For the first time, an independent committee will screen all council candidates. Approved officials will also be subjected to annual compensation disclosure.

In an effort to reduce conflicts of interest, the reforms will also require a separation of power between political decision-making and business operations.

FIFA said it will also give greater voice to the football community in policy and decision-making and modify its statutes to "respect and promote" human rights in all of its activities. The organisation has come under criticism for not taking a harder stand against alleged abuse of workers constructing stadiums in Qatar ahead of the 2022 World Cup.

"We stand united in our determination to put things right, so that the focus can return to football once again," said Issa Hayatou, the acting FIFA president following Blatter's departure. "The hard work of restoring trust and improving how we work begins now.

"This will create a system of stronger governance and greater diversity that will give football a strong foundation on which to thrive. It will help to restore trust in our organisation. And it will deter future wrongdoing."

Washington Post

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