Infantino to play football before starting football reform job

Some four hours after Gianni Infantino was elected their president the ruling body FIFA sent out in invitation to play football with him at noon on his first official working day Monday.

"Following the election of Gianni Infantino as the FIFA President, he would like to invite you to a friendly football match including the FIFA team, invited guests and himself," an email sent shortly after 10 pm Friday said.

It was in a very literal sense what he had pledged earlier in the day, "to bring FIFA back to football and football back to FIFA."

Kicking around a ball on the perfectly groomed pitch right next to the FIFA headquarters will be a nice distraction for the 45-year-old Swiss lawyer after an intense campaign and before he starts the daunting task of implementing a reform package to lead FIFA out of its biggest crisis.

The world in general and justice authorities in the United States and Switzerland in particular will be following FIFA closely as it tries to overcome a corruption crisis which has seen 41 people and entities indicted and has led to the downfall of former FIFA boss Joseph Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini.

FIFA's 207 voting member associations were clearly aware what was at stake when a huge majority of 89 per cent passed a reform package deemed absolutely necessary to appease the authorities but also sponsors in difficult financial times.

A few hours later they also elected Infantino as early as in a second round of voting, and not the original favourite Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa who despite denials has been linked with being involved in the crackdown of pro-democracy protests in his native Bahrain.

Electing Sheikh Salman would have sent the wrong signal as it would have opened yet another debate around FIFA, even more as the reform package included a clear commitment to human rights.

It appeared that the US federation led by Sunil Gulati played an important role as votes from another candidate, Prince Ali of Jordan, went to Infantino and not Sheikh Salman in round two.

The outcome also indicates that Sheikh Salman had neither the full support of the Asian confederation he presides over nor of Africa although a block vote in his favour had allegedly been agreed.

"Thankfully Infantino," was the front-page headline of Swiss daily Tages-Anzeiger Saturday as most of the world welcomed the election of the UEFA general secretary to one of the most important jobs in world sport, and the reform package.

Britain's Guardian said: "The fact that 115 football associations voted for Infantino, against 88 for Salman, tilted the balance away from total gloom."

And looking at the reforms, the New York Times said: "Any way you slice it, that’s a watershed moment for FIFA, though the proof will be in the results."

That will be the key for any kind of success for Infantino who has vowed to restore credibility but is also seen as a man of the old system from his 16 years at UEFA, and was even compared to Blatter when he promised more money for national associations and an expansion of World Cup teams.

Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung named him "Blatter light" and Der Spiegel news magazine "Blatter II."

Infantino will on paper be a weaker president as in the new structures the crucial day-to-day commercial operations will be run by a powerful general secretariat.

The president is to represent FIFA to the outside world and chairs the new council, formed out of heavily tainted executive committee, which acts like a supervisory board and is no longer decision-making.

But Infantino can propose the secretary general and he has said he will chose a man from outside Europe.

It was also observed that he kept UEFA for last when he spoke about all the confederations in his pre-election speech to the congress, and he said later he is looking at the whole football community.

"Today was an election, not a war. It was a competition, not a fight. It was a sporting contest. Now we turn the page, we start to work, and I show the whole world I'm not a candidate of Europe or wherever. I'm a candidate of football and football is universal," he said.

Last update: Sat, 27/02/2016 - 13:39

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