KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Gianni Infantino has fulfilled the second of his two major manifesto promises when he stood first for election as president of world football federation FIFA in 2016.
Infantino, then the general secretary of European governing body UEFA, obtained a second-round victory at FIFA Congress by promising to expand the World Cup finals to 48 and to quadruple the sums available for development projects around the world.
Less than a year later, in January 2017, FIFA Council decided on the World Cup expansion and now a report about FIFA’s finances has shown a four-times increase in development investment.
Little wonder than Infantino will be unopposed when he stands for re-election in Paris in June on the eve of the Women’s World Cup.
According to the Associated Press agency, the four-year financial cycle including last year’s World Cup saw FIFA’s cash reserves rise to a record $2.74b while revenue hit a further record $6.4bn despite the sponsor-intimidating effects of the corruption scandal which saw dozens of senior officials either banned or driven out of the game.
Both totals are significant superior to the initial projections which had been greeted initially with vast scepticism.
On the development front a vindication of Infantino’s promise is evident by comparing the $328m spent in 2011-15 with the $1.161bn being reported over the past four years.
FIFA also claims to have introduced a centralised system of project auditing to guard, as much as possible, against funds being siphoned off by corrupt local officials.
Each member association can apply for up to $6m over the 2019-22 cycle while each of the six regional confederations receives $48m. A further $62m is available for zonal or regional associations if they organize at least five youth and women’s competitions per year.
A percentage of these sums should be invested in local development of women’s football but this has proved much more difficult to enforce.
Overall, Infantino can point to self-justification for his refusal to be bound by reform proposals for a mere figurehead president, although his style of leadership has ruffled feathers within, ironically, his old European constituency.