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The new man from Valais in FIFA’s top job

23.05.2016 – Etienne Wuillemin

Gianni Infantino, the new FIFA President from Valais, is already coming under pressure. What can we expect from him?

His hardest battle took place 46 years ago. As a baby Gianni Infantino suffered from severe jaundice. His life was at risk, and he was in a race against time as only two people in the whole of Europe had the same blood group as Infantino. Only a complete blood transfusion could save him. The procedure was successful. Gianni Infantino is now President of FIFA. The native of Valais with an Italian background, father to four daughters, has acceded to football’s throne after being elected at the extraordinary meeting in Zurich at the end of February. His task is to steer FIFA – an association embroiled in scandal – out of the storm into calmer waters.

What can we expect from him? Will his first fine-sounding pronouncements make any difference? They are so familiar that some are already calling Infantino a clone of the former President Joseph Blatter. “I have this weird feeling that Gianni Infantino will pull off his mask to reveal Sepp Blatter,” says English football legend Gary Lineker. Infantino must now prove he is serious about reform. He wants to strengthen human rights and the position of women in relation to football. He wishes to create greater transparency. He intends to restrict the power of the President – and, above all, the Executive Committee, which has proved to be susceptible to corruption. He also plans to set an age limit on its members. Infantino has already announced that the number of nations taking part in the World Cup will be increased from 32 to 40.

On the election of Infantino, Basel-based corruption expert Mark Pieth said: “Better a ‘weather vane’ than a misanthrope.” Pieth spent several years working at FIFA as a reformer. He proposed these reforms to a large extent and saw how Infantino, then General Secretary of UEFA, opposed all of the changes that he is now advocating. This explains his use of the term “weather vane”. Infantino has to prove that he has moved away from his earlier position. The reforms were approved by an overwhelming majority at the extraordinary meeting. The salary of Infantino’s predecessor Blatter is now also known – but only for 2015. He received 3.65 million Swiss francs. It was at least twice that in previous years.

Infantino’s performance cannot really be judged yet. Those who thought he could quietly set about giving FIFA a new, improved image were mistaken. It took just over a month for Infantino to come under fire. Documents from the Panama Papers have shown that he played a significant role in dubious marketing contracts.

Picture  Gianni Infantino still has to prove how serious  he is about reforming FIFA.  Photo: Keystone