(WFI) Gianni Infantino attempted to distance himself from FIFA’s scandal-battered past as he set about shaking up the governance of world football’s governing body on Friday.
The 45-year-old, elected to replace disgraced Sepp Blatter last month, drilled home the message at a press conference that he will take FIFA in a different direction and won’t tolerate the misdemeanours of top officials scarring its credibility.
“I cannot change the past but I can influence the future,” he told reporters following a FIFA Executive Committee meeting, the final one before a new FIFA Council meets.
Earlier this week, FIFA lodged a claim of restitution to the US attorney general for tens of millions of dollars from former officials charged in America for corruption. Infantino said he was aware that FIFA was “operating still” amid ongoing investigations by US and Swiss authorities into decades-long corruption at the federation.
Vowing to cooperate fully with them, he said: “It is vitally important to FIFA that this cooperation continues because FIFA is a victim of these processes.”
Infantino expressed a clear message of determination from himself and the ExCo “to get the money back to football from those individuals who will be convicted of having a crime”.
“FIFA is moving from the defence to the attack and it must be very clear that anyone who abuses FIFA and football to enrich themselves will not only be excluded from football but you will have to give the money back.”
Infantino spoke of the challenges of turning around FIFA including reviving its flagging financial fortunes; the federation recorded a $122 million loss for 2015.
After Thursday’s disclosure of the salaries of Blatter and FIFA’s senior officials for the first time, he said transparency was an important part of the reforms, as was strengthening the democratic process.
Asked how much money he will earn as head of FIFA, Infantino claimed he did not know what his salary would be yet. “It is not yet a question of interest to me at this time. Not my priority. I know how much my predecessor was earning so I have at least one point to look at it. For the moment it’s not yet fixed,” he responded.
Talking about the need to invest more in football globally, he said: “We want to make sure FIFA uses its money in a very responsible manner. It’s important to remember…we are here to serve football.”
Increasing development grants to FIFA’s 209 associations was a central plank of his election manifesto. And Infantino confirmed that the executive committee had approved a plan to deliver more than $500 million to develop football internationally.
The new FIFA
boss has spent the past three weeks identifying the challenges that face the federation as he begins to implement a raft of reforms.
FIFA’s financial woes are uppermost in his mind; the governing body has failed to sign new sponsors for Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022 since the corruption scandal engulfed the federation last May. After talks with the finance committee, Infantino said they had identified areas where cost savings of up to $200 million could be made including successful restitution claims.
He promised to focus on optimizing budgets and redefining strategies to grow the game. Projected revenues from the 2015-18 cycle are $5.65 billion.
On Friday, Wanda Group became FIFA’s first Chinese top-tier sponsor, signing on through the 2030 World Cup. Infantino described it as “very important” and indicated there were more deals in the pipeline. He said the Wanda partnership would “help a lot to bridge that potential hole”, a reference to the $500 million shortfall in projected revenue unless the sponsorship revenues pick up.
“The wind has changed now,” he said, adding that relations with current and future partners was vital and promise to personally visit all top sponsors in the months ahead.
“I will restore the trust in FIFA. We will attract new sponsors, there will be some more positive news to announce in the coming weeks.”
On the hunt for a new secretary general, Infantino said the process was underway and reiterated that he was looking for a No.2 from outside Europe “to reflect the diversity in FIFA”.
He also spoke about approval of FIFA’s new recruitment policy from directors to all staff members aimed at ensuring diversity and gender equality.
“We will take the time that it takes and make the right choice in a collegiate way,” he said.
Of the 2026 World Cup bidding process, he said there was little discussion by the FIFA ExCo this week. It would be discussed further at the May meeting in Mexico.
Infantino also restated his desire to expand the World Cup from 32 to 40 teams, a manifesto pledge, despite opposition from European clubs.
“I’ll try to convince members of the ECA [European Club Association] of the merits of my arguments,” he told reporters.
“I want to speak with everyone, convince everyone. I hope I can do that. We will start a discussion. We need to be inclusive and make everyone happy.”
By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson
Your best source of news about the global football business is World Football INSIDER