A Swiss, Gianni Infantino, has replaced another Swiss, Sepp Blatter, at the helm of the world football governing body, Fifa.
A Swiss, Gianni Infantino, has replaced another Swiss, Sepp Blatter, at the helm of the world football governing body, Fifa. At the outset, the new president appears to be an extension of the old guard because he not only shares nationality with his predecessor, his native village is also a few kilometres away from Blatter’s. And, Europe’s reign continues in the world’s most powerful sport.
The election of Infantino must be welcomed because his principal opponent, Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman, wasn’t the right candidate by any stretch of imagination. There are allegations that the Bahraini did nothing to stop the torture of athletes in the Gulf country in the wake of the Arab Spring five years ago. Furthermore, democracy and transparency are alien concepts for sports administrators from the Gulf. India should have supported Jordan’s Prince Ali, a far more credible candidate than Salman, but it rallied behind the Bahraini to maintain a cordial relationship with the AFC. Elections are only about expediency at all levels.
Europe has been the nerve-centre of the sport for ages and no one can begrudge the privileges it enjoys. Having worked as Uefa secretary for six years, Infantino must be familiar with the nuances of football administration. The new president, who can speak six languages, has the onerous task of making transparency the lingua franca of Fifa. The job can be a poisoned chalice because Fifa has lost face and credibility in recent times in the aftermath of a series of scandals.
A lot of hope is riding on Infantino’s tenure. The Swiss, who also has an Italian passport, can send the right signals by announcing that he will not continue as Fifa boss for more than two terms. Such a gesture is rare in football administration but it’s necessary in current circumstances.
Infantino is a big fan of using technology in decision making and he seems to be in a hurry to test video replay. An urge to get decisions right isn’t wrong but he must keep in mind the universality of football’s rules. A majority of the countries who play the game don’t have the means to introduce goal-line technology, which is already in use in major European leagues and they can’t think about spending for video replays.
As Infantino himself has admitted, flow of the game is football’s essence. The new Fifa president must also go slow on the expansion of the World Cup because the quadrennial event is the federation’s golden goose. Fifa can’t risk diluting its flagship event.
Finally, Infantino must ensure transparency in awarding World Cup hosting rights. The selection of Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022) is mired in controversy and Fifa can’t afford another contentious decision for 2026. The world football body can contemplate creating a new system in which nations on top of the ranking table have a greater say in awarding hosting rights. The votes of Sri Lanka and Spain cannot have the same value.