French soccer leader seeks to smooth Macron row
PARIS (AP) — Ahead of his re-election as FIFA president on Wednesday, Gianni Infantino said he has banished scandals and corruption from the soccer body despite losing members of his council for misconduct.
Infantino faced no opposition for a second presidential term through 2023, which was confirmed by acclamation at the FIFA Congress ahead of the Women's World Cup.
"For those who love me, for those who hate me," Infantino said. "I love everyone today."
The 49-year-old Swiss-Italian was first elected in 2016 in the wake of Sepp Blatter's downfall amid the biggest scandal in FIFA's history.
"Remember the state of FIFA at that congress," Infantino said. "Well the last three years and four months have certainly not been perfect. I have made mistakes certainly and I try to improve and do this better but today on an election day nobody talks about crisis. Nobody talks about rebuilding FIFA from scratch. Nobody talks about scandals. Nobody talks about corruption."
A generation of soccer leaders in North and South America were swept from power in 2016 after American and Swiss prosecutors targeted financial corruption linked to the game's governing bodies.
In the Infantino era, four continental soccer organizations each lost elected FIFA Council members amid allegations of corruption or financial misjudgments.
FIFA senior vice president David Chung of Papua New Guinea was banned for 6 1/2 years. Kwesi Nyantakyi of Ghana was banned for life. Sheikh Ahmad of Kuwait withdrew his re-election candidacy when implicated in bribing voters. Reinhard Grindel of Germany resigned.
Infantino was also investigated, and soon cleared, in 2016 by the FIFA ethics committee for his use of private jets. The investigators and judges who ran that case, from Germany, Guam and Switzerland, were gone within a year.
Another independent official left abruptly weeks after finding that Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitaly Mutko was too conflicted to retain his FIFA Council seat while also implicated in a state-sponsored doping scandal.
But Infantino told FIFA's 211 member associations that "we have turned the situation around" since the Blatter era.
"This organization went from being toxic, almost criminal to what it should be — an organization that develops football, an organization that cares about football," Infantino said. "We have transformed it into a new FIFA — an organization which is synonymous with credibility, trust, integrity, equality, human rights."
Infantino used his first term to enlarge the men's World Cup from 32 to 48 teams. That will start in 2026 when the United States, Canada and Mexico co-host the event. Plans to fast-track expansion for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar were derailed by the Gulf political crisis and human rights issues.