FIFA, Shaken By Corruption Charges, Elects New President

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Gianni Infantino

Gianni Infantino, a veteran European soccer executive, takes over.

FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, has elected a new president following what has been the worst year in the group’s long and checkered history.

Gianni Infantino, the general secretary of European soccer association UEFA, and the favorite candidate of the English FA, won the support of a majority of the world’s soccer associations, whose members, from more than 200 countries, make up FIFA. Infantino won in the second round of voting after failing to secure a two-thirds majority in the first run.

The election comes amid an avalanche of corruption scandals and a pair of government investigations, in the U.S. and Switzerland, that has threatened to bury FIFA.

FIFA’s former president Sepp Blatter, who was successfully re-elected last May, was forced to resign amid various criminal allegations. After an internal investigation, FIFA banned Blatter and his designated successor Michael Platini from all soccer-related activities.

With Friday’s election, FIFA is hoping to draw a line under the scandals and controversies of the past year.

Before the presidential vote, the organization passed a series of sweeping reforms, officially aimed at stamping out future corruption.

The scandals have hurt FIFA where it counts: the bottom line. Markus Kattner, the group’s acting secretary general, said FIFA was $550 million behind its goals for the 2015-2018 budget cycle, which projected $5 billion in revenues, due to costs and uncertainties connected to the scandals and criminal investigations.

Several FIFA sponsors, among them Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, have threatened to withdrawal their support if FIFA does not clean house.

Infantino was formerly Platini's right-hand man and has been dogged by allegations of bribery. Compared to the bulk of FIFA's executives, however, the Swiss native has kept his nose relatively clean and is seen as among the best-placed to implement real reforms.

“I want to work with you to establish a new era in which we can put football at the center stage,” Infantino told the crowd of delegates in Zurich as he accepted the result. “We need to implement the reforms, but we also need to have respect, the respect that the entire world owes to football, and make sure that finally, once again, we can focus on this wonderful world that is football. I am too moved — let us work together for this.”

But not everyone was satisfied that the vote, and FIFA's promised reform program, go far enough. FIFPro, the world soccer players' union, said Friday in a statement that FIFA remains "entrenched in a governance structure and culture that is open to corrupt practices." The group argues that FIFA's member organizations continue to wield too much power and are not answerable to "key stakeholders, such as the players, fans, clubs and leagues."

 

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