KEIR RADNEDGE COMMENTARY —- Gianni Infantino denounced continued ‘FIFA-bashing’ as he delivered a robust defence of the world football federation’s reforms at its annual congress in Bahrain.

Infantino, disturbed after the negative onslaught which followed this week’s sacking of ethics chamber bosses Hans-Joachim Eckert and Cornel Borbely, took a wide-ranging swipe at all the “governance gurus” who had failed to protect FIFA from itself.

FIFA’s president had been left with no option but to respond with an aggressive defence of the FIFA reforms undertaken since he was elected in February last year to succeed banned and disgraced Sepp Blatter.

Congressman Infantino . . . chairman, president and star keynote speaker

Angry rhetoric apart, congress approved Рwith only six objections Рa full slate of new judicial appointments and an accelerated  process to award host rights at congress next year to the expanded, 48-team 2026 World Cup.

An agenda item concerning Israeli settlements in Palestine was withdrawn, amid angry scenes as the issue was referred to council for yet another delayed review in the late October.

Rebuilding work

Earlier Infantino took centre stage with his energetic presidential address.

He said: “We are rebuilding FIFA’s reputation after all that had happened. We had taken over an organisation which was at its deepest point in terms of reputation, sadly – and we know why.

“Alejandro Dominguez [finance chairman] used these words in the recent South American confederation congress: ‘Nunca mas, never again.’ Never again should we accept that money be the purpose of football; football needs to be the end, the purpose, and money only the purpose to reach that end.”

He sent out an unequivocal warning: “If there is anyone who still thinks that he can enrich himself and abuse football then I have one clear and strong message: leave football and leave football now. We don’t want you.”

Infantino went on to develop his sales pitch for what he defined as “New FIFA.”

He said: “We are rebuilding the credibility of FIFA. The New FIFA is a democracy, not a dictatorship. It is a transparent organisation, a deeply honest organisation, not an organisation that looks to spend money without any purpose.

“New FIFA is an organisation that focuses on football and the values of football.”

Rallying cry

Infantino then launched into an attack on FIFA’s critics, including the media,¬† perfectly weighted to rally the member associations to his cause.

He said: “We need your support . . . because fake news, alternative facts, have become en vogue and there is a lot of fake news about FIFA. FIFA bashing has become a national sport in some countries.

“I understand why. It was right but FIFA has changed now. This is a new FIFA. We are new people here and we act with facts not with words because facts speak louder than words.

“It is normal that, in a big organisation, there are arguments, disagreements, disputes, fights before a decision is taken. It is absolutely normal. But what matters at the end is the decision which is taken. All the rest is speculation.”

Having disposed of the FIFA-bashers and speculators, Infantino turned his fire on old internal critics.

He said: “In the past many highly-paid experts, paid millions, have been hired by FIFA to help reform FIFA. What did they do? They simply rubber-stamped a sick and wrong system. It is the criminal courts saying it, all over the world – and a big thanks goes from my side and the FIFA side to all the authorities who prosecute those involved in corruption in football.

Lesson-free zone

“Where were these self-proclaimed governance gurus who were supposed to control FIFA when all this was happening? They all miserably failed.

“I will not, we will not accept any good governance lesson from any of these individuals who have miserably failed in protecting football and FIFA and protecting football from FIFA.”

Raising a spectre of football needing protection from FIFA might be considered dangerous, with the US Justice Department always looking on.

Infantino did not dwell on the allusion.

He proclaimed reforms such as financial transparency, publication of salaries, term limits, TV rights tenders, eligibility checks (“10pc did not pass them”), independent members on committees and more women (“from five per cent to 20pc but it’s not sufficient, we can do better”).

Now FIFA could concentrate on football again, progressing the introduction of video refereeing, fighting matchfixing, doping and racism.

He concluded: “In football the only colour that counts is the shirt of your team. We have to fight for that. There are idiots in the world everywhere but we have to give strong messages.”

At FIFA Congress in Bahrain Infantino certainly tried his utmost.

** FIFA will stage its annual awards gala in London next October 23 along with a charity exhibition match at Wembley.

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