Gianni Infantino was on the clock just minutes after winning an upset victory that made him the ninth president of FIFA, world soccer's governing body.
That's because Infantino's triumph over Bahrain's Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim followed the overwhelming approval of a series of reforms designed to clean up FIFA's battered reputation.
Infantino has just 60 days to begin implementing those changes, which include an expanded FIFA executive committee, term limits on senior officials and the public disclosure of FIFA salaries.
But the election brings with it more questions than answers. Here are just a few:
Can Infantino clean up FIFA? No one person can fix an organization as mired in scandal and corruption as FIFA appears to be, and Infantino wasn't even the most reform-minded candidate in the five-man field running for the presidency. But the widespread approval of the reform package certainly gives him a huge mandate for change and for cleaning up an organization that has become synonymous with corruption. FIFA's current financial trouble -- it is expected to release financial documents next month showing it ran a deficit for the first time in two decades -- will also help push those reform efforts.
What does this mean for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups? The tournaments were awarded to Russia and Qatar, respectively, under circumstances Swiss, German and U.S. officials are still investigating. But without a smoking gun, it is unlikely FIFA will try to move either tournament, because doing so would have enormous political consequences. Russian President Vladimir Putin would likely use any attempt to take his World Cup away to stir up more anti-Western sympathies in his country. Removing the tournament from Qatar could be even more difficult because FIFA would have to find another country willing to stage the event -- and given the threat of terrorism, figure that few countries would be willing to accept a World Cup that has been taken away from a Middle Eastern country.
What in Infantino's background gave FIFA voters the confidence that he could pull off the complicated task of presiding over the organization? During his seven years as the No. 2 man at UEFA, the governing body for soccer in Europe, Infantino increased revenue 300%, pushed through reform measures such as so-called financial fair play, oversaw the expansion of the European championships and helped create the UEFA Nations League. He also struck the appropriate tone in his campaign speech Friday, asking delegates for help in the reform process and telling delegates that it would up to them to decide how to spend FIFA's money, because it belonged to them.
What role did the U.S. play in the vote? A big one apparently. U.S. Soccer backed reformist candidate Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan on the first ballot. But once it became clear that the vote was a two-man contest, U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati decided to back Infantino. And Gulati gave Infantino more than just his vote, working the room to get other FIFA members to change their votes as well. That proved the difference on the second ballot.
What will Gulati's support of Infantino mean going forward? It could mean a great deal. The U.S. wants to stage the 2026 World Cup and the voting process for awarding that tournament will be conducted during Infantino's four-year term as president. Expect him to be sympathetic to the Gulati's bid. "This is a good day for the sport," said Gulati, who added that "you can sure" the 2026 World Cup was brought up in the discussions he had in Zurich this week.
Will Infantino be able to push through his campaign promise to grow the World Cup field from 32 to 40 teams? It won't happen before the next World Cup, because qualifying tournaments have already started. Also, the oppressive heat in Qatar will require squeezing that World Cup into a 28-day span, making an expansion of the tournament difficult if not impossible. However, should the U.S. be chosen to play host to the 2026 event, it would probably listen to Infantino's plans because that would mean more games, more match dates and the involvement of more cities, which could make the tournament more lucrative.
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