KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS —- Gianni Infantino, warmed by the support of a home crowd at UEFA headquarters in Nyon, has expressed unalloyed confidence in his bid to win the presidency of world governing body FIFA.
Infantino was addressing a news conference after a busy two days involving meetings of both the European body’s executive committee and of all its 54 member associations.
The major issue concerned events at FIFA just over a month before its election in Zurich to consider both a range of reform proposals and to choose a new president in succession to banned and disgraced Sepp Blatter.
Infantino has emerged ever more strongly as UEFA’s front man ever since the world ban on president Michel Platini and with first vice-president Angel Maria Villar hiding ever further away from the media as his own troubles escalate both at home in Spain and abroad.
This high-profile role for Infantino suits both the European federation and its 45-year-old general secretary in projecting his FIFA candidacy.
UEFA’s executive committee, including England’s David Gill, delivered “unanimous” support for Infantino while the national associations – most of whom have yet to take a formal decision – offered “overwhelming” backing.
A statement added: “We are certain he is the right man to take FIFA forward.”
Infantino is one of five FIFA candidates along with Prince Ali bin Al Hussein (Jordan), Jerome Champagne (France), Tokyo Sexwale (South Africa) and Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa (Bahrain).
In contrary fashion, however, Infantino insisted that he is not the official UEFA candidate despite the latest endorsements and the fact that his campaign is being financed by a €500,000 grant from the European federation.
He sought to explain the Janus-like contradiction by pointing out that UEFA itself did not have a vote.
Infantino returned to Europe this week after attending a Caribbean Football Union conference in the West Indies and could report having collected public assurances of support from six nations to which he had now added the 2018 World Cup hosts.
“A big ‘spasiba’ [thankyou] to Russia,” said Infantino, “for having expressed their support for me.”
He added: “I take this responsibility very seriously and I’m very confident, from what I have heard from the 54 European associations. There is more than one month to go and the work continues but it’s from a strong position on my side.”
Infantino said he had no reservations about the manner in which the campaign was being conducted including among the other candidates.
This follows the spat between Prince Ali and Sheikh Salman over the manipulative perception afforded to last week’s development deal between the African and Asian confederations.
Infantino intimated he was above all that.
He said: “FIFA needs to come back to football. There is a lot to be done and reforms to be undertaken. It’s important we have transparency and good governance which have to be pivotal for FIFA’s work in future.”
Infantino stressed – with an eye on how his comments would be perceived beyond Europe – the overriding importance of FIFA’s worldwide development work.
He said: “We have to help everyone who wants to be involved in football, sometimes in very difficult circumstances. It’s much more important than goal-line technology or a 40-team World Cup. Football development is the most important thing.”
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