“FIFA should not be ashamed to make money,” Gianni Infantino, a leading candidate in the race to lead world football’s governing body, told AFP in an interview on Wednesday.
The comments came two days before the vote to replace FIFA’s banned president Sepp Blatter, the biggest name to fall in the vast network of corruption scandals that have tarnished the global game over the past eight months.
But despite the scandals, largely centred on how FIFA heavyweights divvy up the organisation’s huge revenues, Infantino told AFP that earning money in its own right was not FIFA’s problem.
FIFA “should be proud” of making money “and should be proud to reinvest” in football, said the acting head of the European confederation UEFA.
“Money should not be used to build houses for private people. It must be invested in concrete and transparent development projects,” he added.
The 45-year-old Swiss-Italian national was born in Valais, the same Swiss canton as the man he hopes to succeed, Blatter.
His candidacy for FIFA’s presidency was hardly discussed until the sudden downfall of his former boss at UEFA, Michel Platini, who has been banned from football for eight years over ethics violations.
Armed with key endorsements from UEFA and the South American confederation CONMEBOL, Infantino has become a favourite in Friday’s vote, with Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al Khalifa of Bahrain, the head of Asian football, considered his strongest rival.
– African hopes –
Support from Africa’s 54 national football associations will be crucial in Friday’s vote. The executive committee of the African confederation (CAF) has endorsed Sheikh Salman.
But Infantino has voiced confidence that individual African countries will back him in the end.
“I am confident and I have reason to be even more confident,” Infantino said. “The discussions I have had with the presidents of African federations have been very convincing.”
The shaven-headed trained lawyer said that football leaders in Africa — a continent where the game is played and watched massively despite limited resources — trust that Infantino will keep his word and reform management of the world’s most popular sport.
“When we talk, eye-to-eye, you can tell if people are telling you what you want to hear, or if these people are honest,” Infantino said, stressing that his programme, “has very concrete proposals for Africa” and he will therefore get votes from the continent, despite the sheikh’s endorsement from CAF.
– Governance pledges –
Infantino has described this week as the most significant in FIFA’s 112-year history, echoing comments from experts who believe the presidential vote provides a last chance for the body to rescue itself from eight-months of unprecedented crisis.
He restated the importance of reforms, including greater financial transparency, and plans to transfer more power and resources to individual federations. He has also backed expanding the World Cup to 40 teams.
“For me to sit in my chair and watch everything fall apart is not an option. FIFA is going through a very difficult time, a crisis,” Infantino said. “When there are difficult times you need to take responsibility and do what you think is just for FIFA and for football.
Infantino laughed when asked about his birthplace connection to Blatter and whether that foretold his ultimate rise to the most powerful job in football.
“I hadn’t thought about that,” he said. “It’s true that maybe, somewhere, fate plays a role, because a few months ago I hadn’t thought about lauching this adventure.”