The FIFA Presidential elections came and went last week and essentially proved a major anti-climax.
There is a new face at the top of the game globally, Gianni Infantino, but what radical reforms are on the table if any?
Where was the inspirational leader to take the game into this out of the teenage years of the new century? Where was the leader with vision? Where was the leader who had taken on board what the fans of the game globally had been saying for the past nine months?
As was pointed out in an article on City AM by Bonita Mersiades – former staffer at the Football Federation of Australia and one who spoke out about the corruption associated with the World Cup bidding,- who wrote “English FA Chairman, Greg Dyke, who said 24 hours before the vote that if Blatter had been standing, he would have won. Blatter also made it known several days ago that Infantino had taken counsel from him over a mulled wine at Christmas.” That pretty much sums up the state of affairs.
As Mersiades also says the reforms which FIFA spun as “groundbreaking” are quite simply checks and balances that most people would expect a major corporation or Government to have in place and adhere to. Such as making public the remuneration package of the President and Senior Executives; something that should be advocated at all levels of sports administration, especially the FFA. Incredibly, despite most business experts claiming that a seven year period is the ideal one to be at the head of a business, the FIFA executive signed off on a limit of three four-year terms on their executive board. Twelve years does seem far too long a period.
What is terrifying is rather than holding off spending and looking at areas where the game can win back faith and fans the new President has already promised to give each association USD$5m over the next three and a half years, along with a further USD$40million to all six of the Continental confederations. If one was cynical one would wonder whether this was a pre-election promise, and one that many agreed to. It has been done before. Both former Presidents Sepp Blatter and Joao Havelange gave financial incentives as well as world cup final slots to Africa to ensure they received their votes which in total at that time were 52 votes; a sizeable chunk of the overall vote.
For those who truly have no faith in FIFA, they will point to the fact that runner up in the election for a new President was Sheikh Salman al-Khalifa with 85 votes, just 3 behind Infantino and comfortably ahead of the other candidates Prince Ali (27) – whom the FFA supported – and Jerome Champagne (7).
Sheikh Salman has been dogged by allegations throughout the Presidential campaign that date back to 2009 and are related to human rights issues, match-fixing and vote-buying. In an only-at-FIFA situation, rather than face questions on these allegations and answer his accusers, he shut down and issued scores of journalists with letters from his lawyers. Yet despite these allegations and this behaviour he still managed to come second in the election!
We the fans of the game are supposed to believe that things have changed at the top!
Infantino’s rise has been rapid. He was the General Secretary of UEFA and up until a few months ago Infantino’s boss Michel Platini was the clear favorite to replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA President. Platini was then embroiled in a USD$2m payment scandal, having received the money from FIFA without allegedly invoicing for services he claims he rendered, and without being employed by FIFA at the time. Both Blatter and Platini who claim it was a verbal agreement had their original sentences reduced on appeal but are still both now serving six-year bans from any involvement in Football.
As this unfolded Infantino was rapidly drafted into the FIFA Presidential race to try and counter the man Sepp Blatter had allegedly picked to be his successor, Sheikh Salman al-Khalifa of Bahrain.
While some try to highlight the positives of Infantino’s successful campaign others are extremely wary, especially in light of his late run. He will argue that now that the reforms have been rubber-stamped more administrative and operational power has been given to the position of FIFA General Secretary. Dr. Markus Kattner is currently Acting General Secretary after replacing Jerome Valcke, who is another of the ‘old brigade’ enjoying an extended ban from the game.
However, Kattner is unlikely to remain in the role. He is after all European, like Infantino, and FIFA may well look to another region of the world to fill this role and at the same time try and dispel any concerns that the organisation is once again becoming overly Eurocentric. That was the argument that Joao Havelange used to manoeuvre his way into the FIFA Presidency back in 1974.
As with politicians, fans of Football have come to learn that promises made during elections are often broken.
Infantino promised in his campaign to focus on three key areas of the game:
1. Reforms and good governance – essentially he supported the proposals that were approved by the FIFA Congress prior to the election.
2. Democracy and participation – he acknowledged support for structural and participatory changes outlined in those same reforms.
3. Football development
At the end of the Brazil World Cup in 2014 FIFA announced that it had a surplus of USD1.5billion. Since then and the arrests in Switzerland and the various scandals that have followed have seen major sponsors withdraw. Infantino is going to have to win back that corporate support and finance his election promise of USD$5m over the next three and a half years to each of FIFAs 209 associations, along with a further USD$40million to all six of the Continental confederations. The simple mathematics of this says he is already in trouble.
Add to this his aim to increase the number of teams competing in World Cup Finals from 32 to 40, with the competition only being extended by three days and one has to question once again whether football has really moved forward.
When one analyses the outcome of the election it really does explain that over-riding underwhelming feeling.