By Andrew Warshaw in Paris
June 5 – Admitting that he had made mistakes, Gianni Infantino nevertheless gave himself and FIFA’s collective membership a comprehensive – and at times Blatter-esque – pat on the back today as he reviewed his first three years as FIFA president and looked forward to the next four.
Re-elected unopposed by acclamation for a second term of office that will run until 2023, Infantino used his address to the FIFA Congress to declare – not for the first time – that FIFA was now a clean organisation that had gone from strength to strength under his leadership.
Covering everything from higher than anticipated funding to the organisation’s member nations to hopes for the new expanded Club World Cup of which he is so proud of, Infantino spoke for more than 30 minutes as he left no stone unturned in detailing all the positives he claimed had happened to FIFA since he took over from Sepp Blatter in 2016 in the midst of the FifaGate scandal.
“Let us look at our achievements these past three years,” said Infantino shortly before being re-elected.
“It is not possible (any longer) for FIFA to make hidden payments or do anything unethical. We are now all aware where each dollar is coming from, there is no more space for corruption.”
Thanking colleagues for helping him transform the organisation into one that is synonymous with “honesty, integrity and trust,” Infantino made a point of declaring that FIFA’s money has been and will continue to be invested properly as long as he is in charge.
“I have made mistakes, certainly, we have made mistakes. The only people who don’t make mistakes are those who do nothing. But today nobody talks about crisis, rebuilding FIFA from scratch, scandals, corruption. We talk about football. The very last we can say is that we have turned the situation around.
“In three years and four months, this organisation went from being toxic, almost terminal, to being what it should be – an organisation that develops and cares about football.”
Fine words perhaps but not everyone will be convinced. In the Infantino era, four of FIFA’s six confederations have each lost FIFA Council members amid allegations of corruption or financial misjudgments.
As protocol dictates, Infantino briefly left the auditorium at the Paris Expo while his re-election by acclamation via round of applause (only three federations voted against this procedure) took place.
It was all a formality, of course, but Infantino returned moments later all smiles as a giant photo of him was flashed up on the Congress screen.
Normally so cool and suave in public, to his credit he displayed his emotional side as, briefly, he paused mid-sentence, choking on his words as he launched into gushing thank you speech.
“Thanks to all of you, my family and friends, all those who love me – all those who hate me,” he said, pointedly. “I love everyone today. I’m humbled by your trust and confidence. I will continue to work hard – with you and for you. I will not stand still. It is not in my DNA.”
“The new FIFA stands for openness and inclusivity, globality and modernity, unity and leadership.”
And with that, after making his characterisitc pledge that a large segment of FIFA’s mountain of reserves will be well spent rather than “remain in a Swiss bank account” (it is sadly always about the money at FIFA), it was all over apart from the trademark handshakes and hugs, lunch and no doubt some of the best French champagne.
As one of my colleagues put it, as FIFA Congresses go, it was almost Stalin-esque in terms of stage management: not a single decision except to re-elect the leader.
At least it was short.
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