Infantino wins FIFA presidential election

Gianni Infantino (AFP)
Gianni Infantino (AFP)

Zurich - Gianni Infantino on Friday won the FIFA presidential election to replace Sepp Blatter and immediately vowed to guide the world football body out of its corruption trauma.

The 45-year-old UEFA general secretary, a late entrant into the contest, scored a convincing victory over Asian rival Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa in the second round of the vote of 207 members.

"We will restore the image of FIFA and the respect of FIFA and everyone in the world will applaud us," Infantino, who has vowed to give $1.2 billion to national associations over four years, told the FIFA Congress after his win.

"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."

Infantino got 115 votes in the second round of the election while Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman, from Bahrain, got 88. They were just three votes apart at 88-85 in the first round.

Five candidates started the day in contention. Having got 27 votes in the first round, Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan got just four in the second.

Former FIFA official Jerome Champagne had seven votes in the first round but zero in the deciding ballot. South African tycoon Tokyo Sexwale withdrew before the first round.

Infantino's election was hailed by world figures such as Russia's President Vladimir Putin and federation chiefs.

Putin, whose country will host the 2018 World Cup, said Infantino comes into the post with "high authority."

But the Swiss-Italian takes over leadership of the world's number one sport with its reputation at an all-time low.

Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini have been banned from football for six years, US prosecutors have charged 39 people over more than $200 million in football business bribes and Swiss authorities are investigating FIFA's management and the award of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

Infantino, who only entered the contest after Platini was ruled out, will also face immediate financial problems.

Acting secretary-general Markus Kattner said "general uncertainty" caused by the crisis meant FIFA was $550 million (500 million euros) behind in its $5 billion budget target for 2015-2018.

Infantino has proposed increasing the World Cup from 32 to 40 teams and to more than double the amount given back to the 209 national associations to more $1.2 billion in total every four years.

Sheikh Salman had said the proposal could bankrupt FIFA.

Infantino countered that his record at UEFA, where the Champions League has brought in a fortune, proved his credibility as a financial manager.

"Certainly I will approach our commercial partners -- the sponsors, the broadcasters -- they need to regain trust and confidence in football and FIFA," he told a press conference.

"If we can achieve this with our way of working, then I am sure that revenue streams will increase."

FIFA still has doubters and considerable judicial troubles ahead though, particularly from the US investigation with trials that could start this year.

"Today you have this great chance to turn the page," International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach told the congress.

"We need to give new answers to the new questions with regards to credibility and good governance."

A reform package was adopted by 179 members, while 22 voted against and six abstained.

The measures aim to limit the powers of the new president and to end the patronage and waste that prevailed during Blatter's 18-year term.

The president will become more like a corporate chairman of the board, providing strategic guidance but with less management authority.

FIFA's executive committee, which had become an epicentre of graft allegations, has been re-branded as a FIFA council. It will operate like a corporate board of directions.

Measures such as declaring the salary of the new president to improve financial transparency were also included.

But sponsors gave a cool reaction to the measures.

"We urge FIFA's new leadership to prioritize their implementation," major backer Visa said of the reforms.

"As we have said before, we believe it is in the best interests of FIFA, the fans, sponsors and everyone involved, that there is long-term independent oversight of the reforms.

"Our expectation is that FIFA will also take swift and immediate action in instilling a culture committed to transparency, accountability, and integrity."

Blatter, 79, was the big absentee at the congress. The Swiss sports baron suffered a spectacular fall over the last nine months.

Swiss police, acting under US warrants, arrested seven FIFA officials in Zurich two days before his re-election last May.

Blatter has since been banned from football for six years for ethics breaches and could face criminal charges.

Each of the rivals went into the vote with political problems.

Infantino was for seven years the right-hand man of Platini, the UEFA president forced into a six year exodus for ethics breaches.

Sheikh Salman had faced tough questions about the clampdown on pro-democracy protests in the Gulf state. He called allegations made by human rights groups "nasty lies."

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