Infantino: emerging from the FIFA inferno!

Perhaps it was sadly symbolic of the changeless depravity to which we associate FIFA across the years that the announcement of Gianni Infantino’s success was made in ringing tones by none other than Issa Hayatou, the acting FIFA President, who has a record if not as long as your arm, well up to the elbow.

The newly elected FIFA president Gianni Infantino of Switzerland.   -  AP

Alas, it was all too plainly a question of would you rather be shot or hanged. Both leading candidates for the FIFA Presidency brought baggage behind them. Prince Ali of Jordan was unsuccessful after trying to delay the voting. To me he seemed the only convincing candidate of the five. Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa of Bahrain angrily denied Ali’s insistence that he had been a member of a committee which severely punished members of the country’s football team who had been involved in demonstrations against the oppressive regime. But even a local Bahrain newspaper reportedly disputed that. 

The Italo-Swiss Gianni Infantino, who has been running Europe’s ruling body UEFA since the disgrace of President Michel Platini, insists on the absurdity of a 40-team World Cup tournament and has been far too close to Platini to justify any confidence. In the meantime, as though to emphasise the moral ambiguities with which FIFA is so direly endemic, the eight-year suspensions on Sepp Blatter and Platini have been commuted to six years. Why? > Watch: Gianni Infantino's interview on his first day as FIFA President

Platini has betrayed his huge renown as an outstanding footballer. It is still inexplicable that as UEFA chief he would not only have voted for putrescent Qatar as World Cup hosts for 2022 despite the appalling summer 50 degrees centigrade heat, but happily agreed to the tournament being put on in the European winter, thus shockingly disputing the programme of the clubs he represented. Yet here we have both he and Blatter commended for their so called services to football.

Blatter? What services had he ever provided other than to himself and, notoriously, to that outrageous CONCACAF crook Jack Warner of Trinidad who could get whatever he wanted out of Blatter — as Blatter’s own correspondence shows — and invariably did, thanks to his CONCACAF power. 

As for Platini, he unquestionably rendered services to football through his splendid playing career; but afterwards? All very well for a deluded Spanish acting UEFA President Angel Maria Villar Llona to say at the FIFA meeting ‘I hope Michel will be back with us soon,’ but where’s morality? And Platini as we know took a colossal kickback from Blatter, supposedly to stand aside from the FIFA Presidency, and didn’t reveal it for nine years. 

In a scathingly critical piece, a leading English sports columnist wrote on elections day that he hoped Sheikh Salman would win the contest because that would expedite the breaking up of FIFA itself. ‘A Royal from a country notorious for its brutal suppression of protests in 2011.’ Offering at FIFA democratic principles which are denied to the people of Bahrain. He lost.

Of course the main men of FIFA have been running scared ever since the admirable Loretta Lynch, the American Attorney General, had a bunch of them charged with corruption and thrown into gaol. But how sadly significant it was that only when American justice intervened was anything properly done. 

Yet how hard it was until the Americans so forcefully intervened to get anything done to clean out the Augrean Stables at FIFA. My own newspaper the Sunday Times’ Insight team did a remarkable job on sifting through millions of emails to establish FIFA’s multiple culpability, but they might just as well not have bothered. Blatter at a FIFA meeting simply waved the accusations scornfully aside. And there it might have rested until the American justice authorities came in. 

Meantime it is deeply depressing but hardly surprising to learn that American lawyers (well, you can’t win them all) advised all five contestants for the FIFA Presidency to exclude any chance of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups being taken away from Russia and Qatar. There is every reason to believe that both were effectively bought, but, so it now seems, were the previous World Cups played in Germany and South Africa. It is probably too late to do anything about the Russian World Cup. This, though FIFA’s purported crusade to eliminate racism; and racism is blatantly endemic in Russian football where black players are so often subject to abuse.

As for giving the World Cup to Qatar, this was always to be seen as a scandalous affair, and there is no record of Infantino, the new FIFA incumbent, like Platini, his former principal, raising a squeak of protest about the award of the competition, which has always been a scandal. 

perhaps it was sadly symbolic of the changeless depravity to which we associate FIFA across the years that the announcement of Infantino’s success was made in ringing tones by none other than Issa Hayatou, the acting FIFA President, who has a record if not as long as your arm, well up to the elbow. In 2011 he was reprimanded by the International Olympic Committee when his name appeared on a list of payments made by the ISL organisation; payments which not long ago led to the indictment of the ineffable ex-FIFA President Joao Havelange and the corrupt Brazilian, Teixeira. The gentlest of raps over the knuckles merely deprived the appalling Havelange of his honorary position of FIFA President. 

But then we have to reflect that his noxious regime lasted from 1974 when bribes to African delegates helped him unseat England’s Stanley Rous, all the way to 1998.

The abysmal passivity of so many countries which should have known far better, not least the four British associations, gave Havelange and all his malfeasance a scandalous free ride. Infantino certainly isn’t remotely as bad as that or as bad as Blatter, but his fatuous intention to extend the World Cup and his long partnership with Platini give very little hope that he can be the answer to FIFA’s historic turpitude. 

It was Hercules of course who cleaned out the Augean Stables, but Infantino is no Hercules, nor is any in sight. In the 1920s the Football Association dropped out of FIFA twice, the second time, in 1928, over payments to amateurs. What a pity they ever came back, in 1946.