On Friday, February 26, FIFA held elections to name the corrupt organization’s newest president. Gianni Infantino won the election 115-88, distancing himself from the favorite Sheik Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa on the second round of voting. Infantino’s election marks a major upset, as the Swiss lawyer only began running as a replacement for his former boss Michel Platini. Platini and Blatter were banned in December for eight (now six after appeals) years after making a series of shady payments. Infantino’s improbable victory raises the question: has a new, corruption-free era at FIFA begun?
Unfortunately for Infantino, the problem with FIFA was never its president. As corrupt of a leader as Blatter was, he was merely a symptom of the problem. The real problem lies in FIFA’s power structure, which has perpetuated corruption scandal after corruption scandal. It’s an organization that needs a complete overhaul-something that Infantino will have an extremely difficult time accomplishing alone.
The real power within FIFA ultimately lies within its 209 member associations, none of which have anything close to democratically elected leadership. All of the national soccer associations have monopolies over their country’s game, and there’s very little that anybody outside of the government can do about it. In many ways, despite the new president, FIFA is exactly the same as it was before.
It’s also unclear whether Infantino wants to inspire change. He won the election through the old corrupt process and rose to prominence under the now banned Platini’s guidance. And the similarities between Infantino and Blatter are frightening. He was born six miles from Blatter, and his manifesto titled “Taking Football Forward” includes policies that are similar to those of his predecessor. Infantino wants to increase payments to FIFA’s constituents, which seems like a very easy way to buy votes. He also wants to increase World Cup participation, a strategy that Blatter used to create loyalty among his constituents.
Hopefully for soccer, Infantino’s reign isn’t a continuation of the previous regime. For those wanting to forget Blatter’s corruption, that would be the worst possible outcome of this election. But even if Infantino wants to start a revolution within FIFA, there’s little chance that he’ll be able to get much done.