THE election of Gianni Infantino as President of World Football governing body, FIFA, on February 26, may have calmed the storm that rocked the organisation for over a year. But, the world still awaits far-reaching reforms that will rebuild confidence, transparency and accountability in the global football body. The same comprehensive reform is also needed in all FIFA confederations across the world. Until his election, Infantino was Secretary General of the European Football body, UEFA. He succeeds fellow Swiss, Joseph Sepp Blatter, who was forced to quit in May 2015 amid swirling allegations that led to his six-year ban from football, alongside, UEFA President, Michel Platini, who had wanted to contest the FIFA presidency. Both had denied any wrongdoing. Infantino, aged 45, polled 115 votes, 27 more than his closest rival, 50-year-old Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa from Bahrain, a vice-president of FIFA.
There is no doubt that new FIFA President faces a daunting task. He has to bring sanity back to the football governing body, which has been engulfed by claims of widespread corruption since 2015, resulting in the arrest of many of its top officials over sundry corruption allegations championed by the American law enforcement agencies — the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Justice Department. The U.S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, at a time called the sordid saga “international football’s rampant, systemic and deep-rooted corruption racket”.
The new FIFA boss will, in the first instance, complete Blatter’s term up till 2019. He knows that the task ahead of him is challenging. In his acceptance speech, he said he would “build bridges, not build walls”, and that “football can certainly do that”. He assured the world that he would focus on football. “Today, it was an election, not war, it was a competition, but not a fight. It was a sporting contest, and an election you win or lose and then life goes on”.
We agree with his assertion that now is the time to turn the page and work together in the best interest of football and millions of its fans across the globe. In his words, “this is what we will start to do now in FIFA to work with everyone for the development of football and not do politics, to speak about divisions, to speak about barriers”.
Undoubtedly, FIFA in the last one year has been at the centre of corruption allegations. Its top officials appeared to care more about feathering their own nests, than working in the interest of football. The scandals that ensued left its top officials torn apart and the beautiful game of football in great disrepute. It was a classic example of how an important global institution like FIFA should not be run, and how public officials entrusted with its affairs ought not to conduct themselves. The scandal claimed its top officials including Blatter, Platini, its former secretary general, Jerome Vacke, and other top Confederation chieftains. Some of them were allegedly mentioned in the scandals surrounding bid processes for the award of World Cup hosting rights to Russia in 2018 and the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
To address the crisis at FIFA, its new boss should immediately institute processes for key reforms that will make the organisation more transparent and accountable. Prior to his election, Infantino had promised to implement strict and independent control over monetary flows, and ensure public disclosure of payments to elected FIFA members and management, as well as a clear and transparent bidding procedure for FIFA World Cup competitions.
It is not yet clear if the contentious 2018 and 2022 hosting rights awarded to Russia and Qatar will be reversed. However, the problems he identified are some of the issues that caused the storm that FIFA is yet to recover from.
It is now or never for the future of football’s world governing body. All measures that are necessary to overhaul it and stop it from disintegration must be implemented now. These reforms should address the areas Infantino says he will focus on. But beyond that, we will support reforms involving the institution of limits for all key FIFA positions, in particular, the presidency that seemingly has a monarchical structure. This offends democratic tenets.
Also, there should be mandatory competitive bidding, public accounting of salaries and bonuses, and more women in the decision-making positions. The engulfment of FIFA in widespread corruption allegations is partly because of its refusal to embrace meaningful reforms. We hope all that will change very soon. If the organisation must turn a new page and regain the confidence of over 1.6 billion football enthusiasts, it must be open and accountable in all its activities.
The new FIFA helmsman must bear in mind that much is expected of him after the years of systemic graft that rocked the organisation to its very foundation. We urge Infantino to pilot the affairs of the organisation with honesty and clarity of purpose.