If Gianni Infantino can bring about the change he promises, football will be in a much healthier state in four years time.
More than 20 years ago UEFA leader Lennart Johansson proposed that FIFA should follow UEFA’s commercial model. The document, immediately cast into the nearest waste bin by the then world federation president Joao Havelange, was entitled: Vision.
Now, two decades, two presidents and countless scandals later, a European-style blueprint for the re-ordering of the world game is finally being imposed by Gianni Infantino. It’s title: FIFA 2.0: The Vision for the Future.
FIFA has taken so many wrong turnings over the past years that it has cork-screwed into a nether world of credibility-crushing, corporate delusion and reputational self-destruction.
Infantino has emerged from a rocky first eight months with evidence of change and a roadmap which, if implemented in full, would transform FIFA from a subject of daily derision to a model of transparent good governance.
‘If’ remains a powerfully operative word.
Over the past six years since the scabrous 2010/2018 World Cup votes, FIFA has had more new dawns than the smallest dwarf planet.
As Infantino acknowledged after the first half of the inaugural meeting of the expanded FIFA Council, what matters are actions rather than words. The worldwide game has heard more than enough empty ones.
Actions already sorted by new secretary-general Fatma Samoura include a swath of changes among senior personnel to fit a split-sections restructuring plus an four-times increased budget for the current four-year cycle of $1.4bn in development projects.
Infantino said: “Reforms are worth nothing if they just end up being written in a nice booklet and nobody is applying them. We have transformed them into reality, concretely. We have been looking at where did FIFA face issues.”
These were headed up by governance and financial control which included the distribution of football development money, the awarding of commercial contracts, salaries and bonuses as well as general expenses (including provisions of first-class flights, and more than £250,000-a-year in allowances to council members and their partners).
Close behind came organisation of the World Cup, split into ticketing, local organising committee structure and bidding process.
FIFA’s will to establish tighter control over ticketing would suggest a parting of the ways with long-time provider Byrom’s Match subsidiaries, after the 2018 World Cup. The Cheshire-based group was a focus of controversy at the 2014 finals when a senior executive was held in Brazil for some months before touting charges were dropped and his passport was restored.
Infantino said: “We have seen, sadly, some situations in the past on ticketing that we need to address. FIFA has a contract to 2018 and we respect our contracts while putting a new monitoring system in place.
“But we have to consider how can we do ticketing differently? If we take more control over it then, at least, if there is somebody to be blamed then we can be blamed.”
FIFA’s major changes – with marketing director Thierry Weil the latest departure – suggest that Byrom will also be cut loose as soon as the comparatively imminent Russian World Cup is over. But taking ticketing in-house will not be as simple as it sounds: FIFA caught a bad cold trying to do that once before, at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea.
Infantino has promised to streamline the World Cup organisation, presumably based on the success of the in-house UEFA system for the European Championship and a realisation of how Brazilian bosses such as Ricardo Teixeira rang political and financial rings around FIFA ahead of the 2014 finals.
Then there is the knowledge transfer issue. As Infantino said: “It is a pity when every four years somebody new has to organise a big event like the World Cup and start from scratch with everything.”
Similarly with bidding, he said: “Issues from the past don’t have to happen in the future. We have to make sure the 2026 process is absolutely transparent, bullet proof.”
The development funding system is being streamlined with all issues delegated to a specific committee half-comprised of what Infantino described as “independent members.” As with all FIFA committees and taskforces of recent years, the perception of independence may come under some scrutiny.
Similarly, decisions on commercial tenders and contracts will rest with the management and not, as in the past, with the president and/or council (formerly executive committee). Then FIFA is promising a revolutionised digital strategy in the attempt to achieve a closer connection with fans, not least through a sharply increased investment in the women’s game.
As Infantino admitted at a media briefing: “We have to regain the trust of all of you and of the public.”
Easier, of course, said than done. Time is of the essence. Too much has been wasted.