After eight hours and two rounds of voting, a man who was not even on the radar of world soccer five months ago became FIFA’s ninth president. With 115 votes, UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino became the man tasked with moving forward from the darkest days international soccer has ever seen.
He’ll be in charge of reforming an organization that has seen headlines go from crazy votes on locations of World Cups to who is being arrested and for what kind of corruption. The black eye of the past year needs to be put behind this group and trust restored.
The man to lead that effort will be the one who most know as the man pulling ping-pong balls out of glass buckets for the UEFA Champions League and Europa League. Luckily, the reform needed isn’t going to rest on his shoulders completely.
FIFA did vote in a series of reforms that mattered on Friday.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) February 26, 2016
Those are all nice things, but the transformation of FIFA’s reputation will be in how those reforms and others already passed are implemented. For those looking to hear real passion for reform, perhaps Infantino feel short of those expectations.
Instead, Infantino sounded like a typical FIFA presidential candidate at times — promising reform and just about anything and everything to each confederation in his speech before the assembled congress. Given that speech perhaps it is wise to take a “wait and see” approach to the new presidency.
The promise of spreading the development of soccer across the globe was much of the same talk as we’ve seen before. Infantino talked about dividing up a huge piece of the $5.5. billion revenue pie, giving it equally to all member institutions to develop the game within their confederations and federations.
He talked specifically about distributing $1.2 billion of that revenue generated back to the member organizations for developmental purposes. Talk was also about bringing the money away from the central organization and more at the local level.
That talk is what should make some very nervous, as this is the same group that has proven it can’t handle large sums of money being reinvested without major strings attached to it. For many confederations the money of the past went in to pockets of power brokers and powers that be instead of back in to development of the game or to the players who badly needed the support.
It means Infantino’s talk must be backed up by action to prevent the sins of the past from becoming the norm of the future once again. Without specific reforms on how money is distributed and regulations on its spending, why should anyone believe anything will be different?
The one area where confidence should come from is the fact that Infantino is very aware of financials and how to deal with them. He was essential in pushing for a separation of the financial side and the governmental side of FIFA.
Creating a general secretariat for business affairs allows for another layer of transparency and confidence within FIFA. Having someone outside of the governmental leadership handling monetary issues will be a great step, and one that Infantino was instrumental in pushing forward.
That kind of leadership is a good sign of where things can go in his three-year term, but is it enough to quickly turn around FIFA’s reputation?
Skepticism is more than healthy given FIFA’s history, and while the flowery language of today’s FIFA elections sounded great, ultimately it will be the actions taken in the next three years that will speak the loudest.
Can someone so deeply rooted in the world of soccer’s past be the one to reform it from within? President Infantino talked a good game, now he’s going to have to back it up in a major way.