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28 September 2016 20:43 (South Africa)
Sport

Football: Infantino wins presidency while Fifa vows to implement all proposed reforms

  • Antoinette Muller
    still-a-boy copy.jpg
    Antoinette Muller

    Antoinette thinks of the world and the people who live in it as a bear with a sore paw. She has a stick covered in thorns and she’s poking the bear. When she’s not doing that, she’s watching cricket and longing for the days of the boring, boring Arsenal.

  • Sport
Photo: Newly elected FIFA President Gianni Infantino reacts during a news conference at the Extraordinary FIFA Congress in Zurich, Switzerland February 26, 2016. Swiss football executive Gianni Infantino vowed on Friday to lead FIFA, the sport's world governing body, out of years of corruption and scandal after being elected president to succeed Sepp Blatter. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich

There was little of the Swiss efficiency when Fifa held its extraordinary congress in Zurich on Friday. Proceedings started late, everyone returned late from lunch and, just for fun, 11 members voted 'no' when asked during a test vote whether the 2018 World Cup should be held in Russia. The outcome of the day, though, was all that mattered as Gianni Infantino was elected new president and Fifa accepted that all of the proposed reforms should be implemented. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

It took two rounds of voting stretching over five hours to decide Fifa’s next president on Friday. Gianni Infantino won on the second ballot and looked visibly shocked and surprised as he beat off Sheikh Salman Bin Ibrahim Al-Khalifa. This is a man who was not even intending to stand and only ended up on the ballot paper because Michel Platini had been banned from the game for his part in a “disloyal payment” from Fifa.

In the first round, Infantino surprisingly had edged Sheikh Salman with 88 votes compared to 85 while Prince Ali had 27 votes. Jerome Champagne had just seven votes and South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale had withdrawn during his speech earlier in the day.

In the second round of voting, a candidate needed a simple majority instead of two-thirds and Infantino won easily with 115 votes. While it was thought that Salman had much support in Africa and Asia and that those who were voting for Prince Ali would rather vote for an African candidate than one from Europe, the Swiss-Italian had seemingly managed to woo the swing votes which most likely lay in the CONCACAF region. Interestingly, just three of the votes which disappeared from the other candidates went to Sheikh Salman in the second round, which highlights just how much hustling Infantino has done to get support behind him.

Considering all the reputational damage that Fifa has gone through in recent months and, in fact, years, it is impossible to judge whether Infantino will be able to bring a “new dawn”. He does, after all, have a close relationship with Platini and served alongside him at UEFA for a number of years. And those searching for cynical signs will draw their noses up at the fact that he comes from the village right next to Sepp Blatter's. That Fifa is now in the hands of yet another European doesn’t exactly inspire belief that it is an entirely inclusive organisation, but Infantino made an impassioned speech which preached exactly that. He insisted that “Fifa’s money belongs to the organisations”. His campaign involved a lot of on-the-ground campaigning; he spent his time visiting as many countries as possible and possibly won a few votes with his plans for expansion of the World Cup to 40 teams. Infantino also proposed making the World Cup a “regional hosting” affair, just like he has done with UEFA’s Euro 2020 tournament.

No matter how good it looks on paper, though, the new appointment will be approached with caution.

Still, he will start on a relatively clean slate. Earlier in the day, Fifa members voted in favour of all the recommend reforms with 179 countries voting for and 22 voting against them. These reforms include a term limit of four years not just for the president, but all members of the council, the audit and compliance committee and the judicial bodies. There will also be "comprehensive integrity checks" for anyone involved in Fifa and they will be done by an independent committee, a new article to the Fifa statutes regarding human rights and the active promotion of women. Other changes include the number of committees reduced from 26 to nine and the key finance and governance committees will be 50 percent independent. Reforms also include “greater transparency” which is a bit vague but includes the declaration of salaries.

It all sounds good and well on paper and, indeed, England’s Football Association chief Greg Dyke had said that passing the reforms will be “more important than who is president”.

"The reforms are more important than who is the president. The reforms are about the way Fifa conducts its business and I think there is an overwhelming majority of people that want to support those,” he said.

"What matters is tracing the money in and tracing the money out. What matters is making sure decision making is done properly and democratically. If all of those things come out of this then I think Fifa has a better chance in the future."

But those looking in from the outside are unconvinced. Transparency International, the organisation which advised Fifa during their push for so-called reform during the 2011 corruption and bribery allegations, but severed their ties because their recommendations were ignored, was particularly critical.

“The statute reforms won’t yet tell us if Fifa can, yet alone will, reform,” a TI spokesperson told The Guardian

“The acting president has been repeating the line in recent days that now is the time for Fifa to listen and to act. Yet we’re not convinced that they are ready to act because they are still not listening.

“After failing to appoint any independent seats to the new Fifa council, the executive committee yesterday decided not to discuss an important agenda item – creating an independent advisory board to steer the reform process, a reform task force recommendation essential to restoring trust. Not listening and not acting.”

Infantino’s greatest challenge will be ensuring these reforms are implemented properly, especially in terms of transparency and independence. He has said that he wants to make football centre stage again, but in order to do that, he has to lead from the front. Infantino could start by declaring his assets and making it clear that he is not being enriched unfairly or through dubious means. By doing this and encouraging others to do the same, he can start winning back some of the trust which has been completely broken in the last few months. Ensuring that there is independent oversight in whatever he does during his presidency is equally crucial. For Infantino and his deputies, the road to reform cannot just be paved with good intentions; those intensions will have to be turned into tangible actions. DM

Photo: Newly elected FIFA President Gianni Infantino reacts during a news conference at the Extraordinary FIFA Congress in Zurich, Switzerland February 26, 2016. Swiss football executive Gianni Infantino vowed on Friday to lead FIFA, the sport's world governing body, out of years of corruption and scandal after being elected president to succeed Sepp Blatter. REUTERS/Ruben Sprich.

  • Antoinette Muller
    still-a-boy copy.jpg
    Antoinette Muller

    Antoinette thinks of the world and the people who live in it as a bear with a sore paw. She has a stick covered in thorns and she’s poking the bear. When she’s not doing that, she’s watching cricket and longing for the days of the boring, boring Arsenal.

  • Sport

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