By Andrew Warshaw in Moscow
June 13 – Gianni Infantino claimed personal credit today for turning round FIFA’s fortunes since becoming its president just over two years ago – both from a financial and transparency standpoint.
In his address to the FIFA Congress, Infantino boasted that under his watch football’s governing body has been transformed from being “clinically dead as an organisation” to being “alive and well.”
Confidently switching between English, French, Spanish and German – FIFA’s four official languages – Infantino told member federations that FIFA is now “full of joy and passion with a vision for its future.”
Elected in February 2016, nine months after the start of the corruption scandal that brought FIFA to its knees, Infantino prepated the ground for a second term next year even though he only got where he is now through a stroke of opportunistic good fortune following the respective bans of Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini, the latter his former boss at UEFA.
Infantino, whose ambitious plans have not always endeared him to football’s various stakeholders, focussed on the promises he made (and, taking this address at face value, to a large extent appears to be delivering) to FIFA’s 200-plus members declaring that FIFA now has “absolute transparency” in its finances, with more than $6.1 billion income for the 4-year commercial cycle that ends after the World Cup in Russia.
Noting that FIFA had involved itself in 1,800 development projects since the start of his presidency – an increase of two-thirds – Infantino repeated his election message of two years ago when he pledged to stump up far more cash than the previous leadership.
Declaring that FIFA’s revenues far exceeded projections despite “ the worst crisis FIFA has experienced”, he proclaimed: “I can present to you incredible figures.”
“Some were predicting God knows what dark days for the future of FIFA finances especially if we were to invest more in development. But at the end of this 2015-18 cycle the original projection and budget which was $5 billion will, at the end, foresee over $6.1 billion – more than $1.1 billion more than what was expected four years ago.
“I’m also proud that, instead of $350 million we now have $1.4 billion invested in football development. It is your money and you and your children and your boys and girls have to benefit from the revenues of FIFA.”
No-one, to be fair, could argue with such impressive figures but not everything Infantino said would have been swallowed uncritically.
Although FIFA’s reform programme was launched during the latter part of Blatter’s reign, Infantino made no mention of that as he stated: “The good governance reforms were vital in order to achieve this state of affairs and make sure FIFA … is in such good shape. The principle of good governance we introduced were instrumental in this renaissance.”
“Everyone knows know where the money comes from, be it euros or dollars, and where it is destined. Everything is clearly documented and clearly traceable.”
Within FIFA’s own distribution process, perhaps, but certainly not when it comes to private greed within national federations.
Only this week the idea that FIFA bigwigs are no longer susceptible to temptation was brutally exposed when the Ghanaian member of FIFA’s ruling council Kwesi Nyantakyi, the second most important official in African football, resigned from all his posts after accusations of accepting $65,000 from an undercover reporter.
As a result, Ghana’s federation was annulled by the government, leaving one empty seat and one non-voting member at today’s Congress at Moscow’s Expocentre.
As he wound up FIFA’s 68th Congress, Infantino announced that he would be standing for re-election next year in Paris, something that was widely anticipated would happen but not quite yet.
“Leadership means listening to all of you but also to act,” he said. “A leader must have a vision and we are transforming FIFA and projecting it into a new era.”
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