The global soccer governing body, FIFA, announced this past Friday that current UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino was elected to be the next president of what is likely the most powerful organization in all of sports. FIFA has been under immense scrutiny ever since the May 2015 arrests of seven top officials on corruption charges in Switzerland and subsequent charges made by the United States government. Infantino’s election comes in light of former president Sepp Blatter and heir apparent Michael Platini’s eight-year bans from all FIFA events. The scandal has been a public relations nightmare for FIFA, including public reprimands by some of the largest corporations in the world, severance of partnerships from others, and the release of arguably the worst movie of all time. The ruling body that is capable of bringing North Korea and the United States together on a grassy field needs Infantino to right a ship that has been sailing crooked for far too long.
From the looks of it, Infantino is starting his tenure off on the right foot. As he helped open a new FIFA museum in his first act as president, he declared his intent to implement reforms to the ruling body. It is important in this time of change that he reiterates that the organization is making the changes its publics need to see for reassurance. In what was a massive part of the previous regime’s abhorrent corruption, Qatar was awarded the 2022 World Cup in 2010 despite its complete lack of infrastructure at the time. To meet the promises it laid out in its bid, the nation has embarked on an incredibly horrific migrant worker system that has left thousands dead already. Huge sponsors including Visa, Coca-Cola, and Adidas, are calling for Infantino to address the human rights issues FIFA has turned a blind eye to thus far.
Infantino and FIFA have a massive hill to climb in righting the wrongs of its previous leaders. In my opinion, stripping Qatar of the World Cup bid it won would be the strongest and most symbolic act Infantino could make at this time. It would show the world that FIFA is making the necessary changes it desperately needs to make during this period of mistrust from its publics and also that it values the rights of the voiceless. Realistically, I don’t see a shake up that large happening, but I do hope Infantino takes a page out of NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s playbook and levies a heavy hand early to set a tone.