The white smoke has risen to the skies above Zurich. We have a new FIFA president.
After two rounds of ballots, UEFA secretary general Gianni Infantino secured enough votes to claim the presidency.
The Swiss attorney, whose career in football governance began in 2009, emerged as an unlikely front-runner in the first round of voting. He came out with 88 votes, three ahead of Sheikh Salman (who was the presumptive favorite heading into today’s Extraordinary Congress) and well ahead of both Prince Ali and Jérôme Champagne. Tokyo Sexwale had withdrawn from the race before voting had commenced.
In between votes, both Infantino and Salman lobbied other executives heavily in order to build enough of a coalition to grab a simple majority in the second round. Infantino, being the de facto establishment candidate and enjoying the advantage of not having pro-democracy protesters targeting him outside, clearly came out on top.
Infantino was overwhelmed with emotion during his victory speech:
I cannot express my feelings in this moment. I told you I went through an exceptional journey, which made me meet many fantastic people, who live and breathe football, and many people deserve to see Fifa is highly respected. Everyone in the world will applaud us for what we will do. Everyone will be proud of what we will do.
With his experience in football governance, and in particular his time as right-hand man to suspended UEFA chief Michel Platini, Infantino has been touted as someone who will bring a CEO mentality to the role. He has extensive connections among football’s power players, he’s been described as an effective delegator, and he knows who he needs to get in the room. Whether his particular skills and political acumen will translate into meaningful reform at an organization who’s finally being forced to reckon with decades of corruption and impropriety remains to be seen.
Infantino at least has a sense of the scope of the task before him, willing to admit that FIFA has problems in a way that his predecessor will not. More from his victory speech:
FIFA has gone through sad times, moments of crisis, but those times are over. We need to implement the reform and implement good governance and transparency. We also need to have respect. We’re going to win back this respect through hard work, commitment and we’re going to make sure we can finally focus on this wonderful game that is football.
In addition to electing the new president, the Extraordinary Congress deliberated on a host of other issues. One key vote concerned the ratification of a reform package, which was overwhelmingly approved. These reforms include the appointment of a general secretariat to handle business affairs (the first step towards separating the business and football affairs within FIFA), setting term limits for association presidents (three four-year terms), the creation of a 36-member council to replace the Executive Committee with a mandate to include at least six women, and a reduction in the number of committees from 26 to nine.
Other votes included lifting the suspensions of Kuwait and Indonesia so they could vote today (which did not pass), making various appointments, and suspending a member of the audit and compliance committee following a criminal conviction in the Cayman Islands.