News 26th February 2016

Gianni Infantino takes helm as FIFA President

UEFA General Secretary Gianni Infantino will be FIFA’s new President until 2019, after he won a second ballot of votes at the Hallenstadion in Zurich today. Infantino took 115 votes in the second ballot over Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al-Khalifa’s 88. Prince Ali bin Al Hussein took just four votes and Jérôme Champagne none. As expected, Tokyo Sexwale withdrew before the first ballot. National associations were forced into a second round of voting, after none of the candidates secured the two-thirds majority required in the first round to win outright. A 50% majority was all that was required in the second round for Infantino to take victory.

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It is understood that the 207 national associations present (Indonesia and Kuwait are suspended) were impressed by Infantino’s pledge to expand and increase football development projects. “I’m asking you that if FIFA generates $5 billion in revenues, is it not normal that $1.2 billion can be reinvested?”, he asked, to applause from the national associations. “The money in FIFA is your money. Is it a problem to spend 25% on development?”

His manifesto also states: ‘A proper risk analysis must be conducted regarding the need for keeping the current reserves at such a high level ($1.5 billion)’. Both of these indicate to the smaller national associations, which form the majority of FIFA’s membership, that Infantino may be a President prepared to spend money on them.

This has not gone unnoticed by FIFPro, the union of professional football players’ associations. ‘FIFPro fears placing increased power in the hands of FIFA’s 209 member associations lies at the heart of the problem’, read a statement. ‘These organisations are not representative of the game and, yet, wield enormous influence over issues that affect key stakeholders such as the players, fans, clubs and leagues. The newly-adopted reforms failed to address the fundamental issue of making football authorities accountable to the game’s most important actors. FIFA’s system of governance has been based on favour swapping and financial inducements, not to mention obstructing external oversight from governments and the game’s key stakeholders. The players, much like the clubs, leagues and fans, were ignored in the latest reform effort and today’s governance review will not suffice to address FIFA’s inherent governance shortcomings.’

FIFA’s 2014 Annual Report reveals that FIFA spent US$131 million on Congresses, more than half its ‘football governance’ expenditure of US$232 million. It has already approved a budget of US$36 million for the 2016 FIFA Congress, which is due to take place in Mexico City on 12-13 May. Under the Standing Orders of the Congress on page 57 the FIFA Statutes that were approved today, each of the 209 member associations is entitled to send three delegates to Congress, and flights and accommodation for all 627 people will be covered by FIFA.

“As you know, FIFA is in a difficult situation and the circumstances have been challenging”, said FIFA’s Acting General Secretary Markus Kattner said earlier in the day. “We experience a high pressure from authorities, and there are various legal  proceedings and investigations that we have to deal with on a daily basis.” Kattner said FIFA is $550 million behind its revenue projections for this 2015-2018 cycle and would report a negative financial result for 2015. He did not go into the reasons why, however he did mention “significant unforeseen costs”, which are understood to be in relation to the legal proceedings and investigations he outlined.

Congress also voted to approve FIFA’s reform package today, with 122 national associations in favour and 22 against, with six abstentions. FIFPro and other organisations such as NewFIFANow are concerned that the FIFA Reform Package is just ‘greenwashing’ FIFA’s issues, without opening the organisation up to external scrutiny.

They point to the tact that FIFA failed to clarify whether a debate between Presidential candidates at the European Parliament would breach FIFA rules on government interference in sport, causing candidates to withdraw. They point to the fact that just two days before the Congress, FIFA was trumpeting vanity projects such as the new CHF30 million (€27.5 million) Football Museum in Zurich, housed in a building FIFA has spent CHF140 million (€128 million) renovating. They point to the 327-page Transparency International report on corruption in sport, which reveals that 69% of world football fans have lost faith in FIFA.

Contrary to Infantino’s assertion that “the money in FIFA is your money”, they argue that the sponsors, television companies, players and fans are football’s true investors. Infantino, who is understood to be friends with former FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, will have to convince the naysayers that he can steer the listing FIFA ship through stormy waters in the coming months.

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