Despite all the promise of change, all the hand-wringing and feigned outrage, FIFA’s election on Friday proved just how little things have changed. In the first round of voting, the competition was narrowed down to two men: a suspected human rights violator and a UEFA lackey for Michel Platini.
In the second round, the lackey won out.
Said lackey, Gianni Infantino, seems to be everything that FIFA loves and nothing that it needs. He’s a slick coat of new paint thrown over a crumbling house. To prove this, he wooed voters in six languages while making no solid promises of reform. He talked about how his “journey” had allowed him meet members of world FAs and all the money he was going to spread around to everyone. Although he made a token nod to the need for more transparency, he was far more concerned with keeping the 209 members of the organization happy.
Perhaps it was wise to ignore the problems he has no interest in reforming. It’s hard to imagine anyone more inside and less likely to introduce serious new ideas. As has been pointed out by others, Infantino is so inside, he basically grew up next door to Sepp Blatter.
Infantino comes from a Swiss village called Brig. The next village along, Visp, is home to … Sepp Blatter.
— sportingintelligence (@sportingintel) February 26, 2016
More telling than geography is Infantino’s work under Platini, Blatter’s former protege. In such a high-up position, it is almost inconceivable that he was unaware of FIFA’s corruption issues. Which means he was either complacent, corrupt or stupid while managing affairs for UEFA.
Of course, it could have been worse. At least Infantino has not been accused of human rights violations, as his chief challenger was. Sheikh Salman of Bahrain allegedly headed a committee that investigated athletes who protested for democratic reforms in his home country, leading many to being arrested and tortured. He was, by the way, also a big supporter of Platini.
So, hooray FIFA for not choosing that guy. But in a practical sense, the choice to go with their (slightly) better angels won’t amount to much. Considering his narrow victory, Infantino is unlikely to pursue the radical overhaul FIFA needs even if he were inclined to. Expect nothing to be done about human rights violations in Qatar or Russia. Expect little to be done to eliminate bribery and corruption, unless the police expose it first. In fact, expect nothing but a less crabby Swiss president heading the press conferences.
But this was always going to be the result. After all, how can you reform an organization that doesn’t want to be reformed? The only man with any credibility on that point — Jordan’s Prince Ali bin al-Hussein — received only four votes in the second round. Though he was there before anyone calling for change, and though he had the backing of America and was well-respected in Asia, he failed miserably against miserable competition.
That’s not to say nothing has or will change. Before the vote, members of FIFA agreed to some mild amendments to its practices, including term limits on the president and publishing salaries, but such rule tweaking is largely cosmetic. After all, had Blatter stepped down in 2010 and Platini taken over, would FIFA be much different today? And had everyone posted their official salaries, would that have in any way affected the giving of bribes?
Probably not, but FIFA isn’t in the business of improving. It wanted a new smile to sell the same old product. And on Friday, it got all it was looking for in Gianni Infantino.