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FIFA: As Infantino cleans house, Tokyo Sexwale could be waiting in the wings

FIFA: As Infantino cleans house, Tokyo Sexwale could be waiting in the wings

Tokyo Sexwale might not have had any hope in hell of becoming FIFA’s new President, but the post of secretary general is there for the taking. If Gianni Infantino stays true to his word, he’s could be looking to appoint an African in the role. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

To say that the task that awaits newly-elected FIFA President Gianni Infantino is huge, would be an understatement. Not only does he have to start the task of restoring FIFA’s image, which has been tarnished by one corruption scandal after another, but he also has to ease some of the trepidation that surrounds him as the man at the helm of the world’s favourite sport.

Infantino, a long-term ally of disgraced Michel Platini, might have won the backing of 115 federations on the second ballot, but that does not mean that outsiders are convinced that he is the right man to lead FIFA out of the quagmire they find themselves in.

Transparency International has warned that trust will only be restored if the large scale reforms are implemented while retired footballer Ramon Vega wrote in his Yahoo column he does not think Infantino represents a clean enough break from all FIFA’s scandals.

Like it or not, Infantino is in the driving seat for now and the administrative revolution will start with salaries of top officials being declared. The new president is likely to have to take a pay cut compared to what former president Sepp Blatter was pocketing after a three-man remuneration committee decided that neither Infantino nor his appointed CEO should earn more than Blatter, who is reported to have received in the region of $6 million.

The appointment of that CEO, or general secretary, will be watched with a beady eye as FIFA strives to find some independence in a number of its top positions and share the power that has for so long been in Europe’s hands. Infantino has already said that he is set on appointing a candidate from outside Europe.

“What we want to do is open the doors of the FIFA administration to the most able people around the world. I am convinced the general secretary of FIFA should not be a European. Why not an African?” he told reporters, as he detailed the 11 key points he would focus on in office during his election campaign.

Since being founded in 1904, FIFA has had ten secretary generals, all of whom have been European, so the move to look elsewhere is no surprise. Since the president will have no influence over commercial contracts, so will not receive bonuses, it will have to be somebody who knows business well and all things considered, it would not be too much of a surprise if that job ends up going to South Africa’s Tokyo Sexwale.

While his campaign for the presidency left much to be desired and his 15-minute election speech ended with him calling it quits and saying “it’s your problem now”, he is the only candidate who openly admitted that he would be open to the possibility of an alliance.

On Monday last week, Sexwale spent hours with Infantino on a trip to Robben Island and while he did not openly endorse the Swiss-Italian at the elections, Sexwale always knew he had little chance of muscling his way into soccer’s top job, but he would have known that he had the opportunity for another gig within the organisation. Infantino had very little to gain from his last-minute visit to South Africa, considering Sexwale had five votes at best which he could have passed on, but it would have offered him an opportunity to scope out a potential employee. Sexwale told reporters after the visit: “I’m open to deals. It’s a secretive process. It’s like the Vatican. You never know what will come out.”

The South African has the business and leadership credentials for a role of secretary general and can even be seen as an “independent” candidate since he has only ever worked for FIFA as a consultant. However, there might be a slight issue with integrity checks. On the same day as the elections, FIFA passed reams of reforms, amongst which are checks, done by an independent committee, for anyone involved in any of FIFA’s important roles. Considering Sexwale had his share of controversies in his business deals, passing those checks might be somewhat tricky if FIFA want to clean up their image.

Infantino has a long agenda of things that need to change while he is in charge and whoever is appointed as his right-hand man will play a crucial role in assisting him to see his projects through. Amongst other things, Infantino has to continue the internal investigation into corruption during the Blatter regime and take legal action to recoup any money lost – a task in which he can really prove that he is not too close to Blatter and Platini. He’ll have to do this while keeping his finger on the pulse of the ongoing United States and Swiss criminal inquiries and ensuring FIFA co-operates fully.

And, perhaps two of his biggest tasks, is ensuring the implementation of all the transparency reforms and beginning the bidding process for the 2026 World Cup. One of Infantino’s key points on his manifesto was the expansion of the tournament to 40 teams and the possibility of allowing bidding to take place “region-wide”, as has happened for the 2020 Euro Cup. Since he only has a four-year term to implement these plans, the 2026 World Cup bidding and organisational process will be his legacy project.

Don’t be surprised if the World Cup as we know it, and the sport itself, has completely changed by the time Infantino vacates his post. DM

Photo: Then FIFA presidential candidate Gianni Infantino (R) jokes with rival Tokyo Sexwale at a news conference in Cape Town, February 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

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