Surprise Winner In FIFA Election Is Still Unlikely To Fix Corruption, Critics Warn

CREDIT: Michael Probst, AP

Newly elected FIFA president Gianni Infantino of Switzerland raises an arm during a press conference after the second election round during the extraordinary FIFA congress in Zurich, Switzerland, Friday, Feb. 26, 2016. Delegates of the soccer body FIFA met to elect a new president.

Gianni Infantino was elected the President of FIFA on Friday, succeeding long-time leader Sepp Blatter, who has been suspended from football for six years due to ethics violations. Infantino earned 115 of 207 votes in the second ballot at the Extraordinary FIFA Congress. (Yes, that was the official name of the event.)

Infantino’s victory was somewhat surprising — Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain, the president of the Asian Football Confederation who has a litany of alleged human rights violations on his resume, was the presumed favorite heading into the day. So Infantino could very well be the lesser of two evils.

However, his election doesn’t inspire much belief in the sweeping reforms that the scandal-synonymous organization has promised.

According to David Nakhid, a former player on the Trinidad and Tobago national team who was briefly a candidate for FIFA President, this is another example of the organization’s neverending “corruption and stagnation.”

FIFA, which is currently under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for conspiracy and corruption, is likely to keep operating as business-as-usual under Infantino.

Infantino grew up just six miles from Blatter’s hometown in Switzerland. He has been the general secretary of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) since 2009, and is extremely close to the former president of UEFA Michel Platini, who has been banned from the sport along with Blatter for six years. In fact, Infantino only decided to run for president of FIFA after Platini, the heir-apparent to Blatter, was deemed ineligible. Infantino admits to talking to Platini almost daily.

“Platini and Infantino they run a confederation at the top of the mountain that is getting wealthier at the expense of everything else,” Nakhid told ThinkProgress. “What has UEFA done for developing countries except exploit?”

Nakhid is among those who believe that Infantino was elected because he offered more money to each football federations for developments — a proposal his competitors warned will bankrupt the organization — and because he vowed to expand the World Cup field from 32 countries to 40. Nakhid described this as “populist at best, something no president can do.” The Associated Press described his financial promises as a “straight from [Blatter’s] playbook.”

“In terms of [Infantino’s] manifesto and what direction he takes FIFA, he hasn’t offered a lot in way of insight or meaningful change,” Shaka Hislop said on ESPN.

“I think it’s going to be worse now, more money is going to come in,” Nakhid said. “People are going to be more aware that people are watching, but the same thing is going to happen. Four years down the line we are going to be talking again about corruption. It’s going to be the same cycle again.”

Of course, there are a few reasons to be mildly optimistic. The Extraordinary FIFA Congress did approve reforms on Friday that aim to improve transparency, limit the president’s term, and both provide more resources to women’s soccer and ensure that more women are involved in the sport’s leadership.

And in his speech, Infantino sounded devoted to restoring FIFA’s integrity.

“FIFA is in a crisis situation, a difficult situation. The reputation and image of FIFA is tarnished,” he said. “And when a situation is difficult, dear friends, you have two choices: you hide or you stand up. You hide and you wait until it passes or you stand up and try to do the right thing. For me, to hide has never been an option. I always wanted to act.”

But, according to Nakhid, Infantino’s closeness with the previous regime and Euro-centric focus will keep the organization heading down the wrong path. FIFA has a new face, but the system has not been overhauled.

“All of the candidates were unsuited,” he said. “None of them are what is needed. We can talk about reform and we can talk about transparency, but there’s a reason corruption takes place. Nobody adjusted to it.”