(WFI) INSIDER canvassed opinions about Gianni Infantino’s FIFA victory from some of FIFA’s 209 member associations.
His win drew a mostly positive reaction from around 20 national federation leaders questioned by INSIDER. The 45-year-old beat Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa by 115 votes to 88 to secure world football’s top job in Friday’s election, succeeding the disgraced Sepp Blatter.
For Horace Burrell, head of the Jamaica Football Federation and vice president of CONCACAF, Infantino’s win was a major surprise. He had expected Salman, the Asian Football Confederation president regarded for many weeks as the frontrunner, to emerge triumphant.
“It’s such a shock. I am still trying to fathom the shock,” he told INSIDER on Friday soon after the vote. “Certainly after the first round I expected a far more competitive round.” Infantino had edged Salman 88 votes to 85 in the first secret ballot before many of Prince Ali’s backers swung in behind the Swiss in the second.
Burrell declined to respond when asked if the former UEFA general secretary’s presidency would be good for the CONCACAF region. “I am still trying to soak up what happened,” he said.
Infantino’s passionate pitch to the FIFA Congress clearly won over some voters who may have been unconvinced of his credentials to run world football’s governing body. One of the new FIFA chief’s central manifesto pledges – to more than double development grants to FIFA’s federations to $5 million – was key to his victory.
Time to Deliver
The message from federations is that he must now deliver.
Grenada FA president Joseph Cheney said he was excited about FIFA’s future under Infantino’s stewardship, saying “We can spend more time talking about the positive things in the sport, young people can look forward to football without much controversy.
“We won’t be talking about football in the court house and with the [U.S.] department of justice and just concentrate on development and on the pitch.”
Is Infantino the man to clean up FIFA after the corruption scandals that have plagued the federation and Blatter over recent years? “Certainly, I voted for Infantino on both occasions.”
Cheney dismissed any talk of a bloc vote by the Caribbean Football Union for Infantino. “No one approached me,” he said, adding that Grenada had worked closely with UEFA for a long time and that Europe had the “best football and administration”.
While smaller federations will benefit most from Infantino’s plan to reinvest more of FIFA’s $5 billion World Cup revenues back into football, Cheney suggested the funding pledge was not the reason Michel Platini’s former right-hand man triumphed.
“I don’t think money is the motivating factor. Money is there to be circulated,” he told reporters after Infantino’s victory speech. “Anyone who thinks money can make you happy… money can’t make you happy it’s about peace of mind, it’s about being able to fulfil your goals and objectives.”
He described Infantino’s rivals, who included Salman, Prince Ali, Jerome Champagne and Tokyo Sexwale – until he dropped out before the vote on Friday – as “good candidates” but the “best one won”.
St. Vincent and The Grenadines Football Federation voted for Infantino.
Asked why he was the best choice to lead FIFA, 3rd vice president Wayde Jackson told INSIDER: “I think from the way that he conducted himself and the way that he has been in world football… has never been associated with any kind of corruption.
“He is the type of person who is inclusive. He talks about dealing with all of the associations fairly and trying to get football developed across the world.”
A Guyana Football Federation delegate said it was crucial now for the Swiss to “make good on his commitments to smaller countries because that is one of our concerns”.
Officials from the football associations of Equatorial Guinea, Antigua, the Faroe Islands, Albania, DR Congo, New Zealand, British virgin islands, Cameroon, Brunei Darussalam, Mexico and Vanuata in the South Pacific also agreed that Infantino could become a good president. However, not all of them voted for him and some were disappointed with the result, refusing to comment further.
A delegate from Curacao said simply: “It’s the decision of the congress so we have to respect it.” Could Infantino deliver for smaller associations? “Yes,
I think that he can deliver more. He told the congress of his intentions,” he said.
An Egyptian official said: “He has good experience and he’s young. He will be with us for a long time.”
Russia, Georgia and Kazakhstan were among a majority of European nations who voted for Infantino. “We are happy,” said the Georgian delegate, adding that “for sure” Infantino would make good on his pledges: “That is why we have decided to vote for him.”
Britain’s FIFA ExCo member David Gill told reporters Infantino had travelled extensively to meet FAs around the world during his FIFA campaign “and understands the requirements”.
“It was a good win in a well-fought election,” he said, urging Infantino’s vanquished rivals “to rally behind Gianni. We all have to be as one as an organisation going forward”.
“Now we all have to work together to ensure we deliver on the promises we made, ie that FIFA can solve its problems internally, which I believe it can do,” Gill added.
In a statement, Sheikh Salman indicated that he would work with Infantino to unite the FIFA family.
“The AFC looks forward to working with the new-look FIFA and its new president Gianni Infantino in order to reform the world football governing body and to reinstate football’s credibility globally,” he said, adding that Asian football through its own reform process and the new AFC Vision “will play an active role” in Infantino’s bid to turnaround FIFA’s battered reputation.
“In these unprecedented times world football needs unity. With the FIFA reform package having been voted through there is now real momentum for world football to reinstate its credibility,” he said. “The new FIFA needs to become more inclusive and reflect the diversity of world football. I trust Gianni Infantino will provide the leadership to achieve this, as well as the rest of the reforms that are now urgently needed.”
By INSIDER editor Mark Bisson
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