By Mike Collett
Gianni Infantino’s election as FIFA president should give soccer’s governing body the time it needs to begin tackling the corruption and other problems that have dragged it into the worst crisis in its 112-year history, current and former officials said on Saturday.
As well as electing a new president to replace Sepp Blatter on Friday, FIFA signed off on a slew of reforms that may help restore its credibility, even as dozens of its personnel past and present face criminal investigations in the United States and Switzerland.
“This will be a new era for FIFA despite the problems it faces. Let him have time to settle, to see what needs to be done and let everyone calm down a little,” Per Ravn Omdal, a former president of the Norwegian FA and FIFA executive committee member during Blatter’s early years in charge, told Reuters.
“He has a massive task of course, but he can start work in a totally different atmosphere than the one surrounding FIFA for the last few years.”
One FIFA insider who asked not to be named said it may also help that the organisation did not pick Sheikh Salman of Bahrain, who had repeatedly had to deny any role in his country’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests five years ago.
“If Sheikh Salman had won this election, becoming president after allegations against him involving human rights abuses, the attention from the justice authorities would have been unrelenting,” he said.
“The temperature would have gone past boiling point. We can all take a step back now.”
Greg Dyke, chairman of the English FA, also welcomed Infantino’s win.
“The last thing FIFA needed was another president bringing a pile of suspicious baggage into the job,” he said.
“Gianni comes in clean, his record as UEFA’s general secretary is first class and will stand him in good stead for his new job.”
South African Tokyo Sexwale, who withdrew his candidature for the presidency moments before the voting began, told Reuters: “I think it is a great privilege for us to see him leading this organisation out of the current quagmire it finds itself.
“I have just been to Robben Island with him to show him the place where Nelson Mandela was. I hope he will be carrying the spirit of that reconciliation which Nelson Mandela was known for,” he said.
“Gianni has got a very heavy responsibility on his shoulders … and he needs many people to side with him. There will be all kinds of criticism, all kinds of negatives. But I think he is strong enough to go through that.”