Image:FIFA presidential candidate Gianni Infantino leaves after his visit to the CONCACAF meeting in Zurich, Switzerland February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann
By Brian Homewood
ZURICH (Reuters) – Gianni Infantino opened FIFA’s new museum in his first official act as president of soccer’s governing body on Sunday and said that implementing the wide-ranging reforms passed on Friday would be his immediate priority.
The 45-year-old Swiss, previously general secretary of European soccer’s governing body UEFA, was elected on Friday, ahead of Bahraini Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, to become only the ninth president in FIFA’s 112-year history.
He inherited an organisation in crisis after several dozen soccer officials, some holding high ranks in FIFA at the time, were indicted in the United States while former president Sepp Blatter was banned for six years by FIFA’s ethics committee.
Under pressure to clean up its act, FIFA passed sweeping reforms at its congress on Friday which include replacing the Executive Committee with a 36-member FIFA Council and limiting the president and other senior officials to three terms of four years.
A new professional general secretariat, akin to a company’s executive board, will handle the business side of FIFA, leaving the 36-member Council, elected by national member associations and including at least six women, to focus on broad matters of policy and strategy.
“The reforms need to be implemented now, they need to be implemented from day one. I will go up to the office and look at how to concretely implement these reforms so that, very soon, we can concentrate on football,” Infantino told reporters.
“As for the past we have to make sure we co-operate fully with the authorities to make sure everything comes out if something has happened.”
Infantino said there was no immediate hurry to appoint a secretary general, whom he said during his campaign would come from outside Europe.
“I think we have time for that, we have to look at it and analyse the situation very, very carefully. We shouldn’t rush,” he said.
Infantino, who won Friday’s vote after the United States lobbied in his favour in between rounds of voting, denied he had promised to help them win the race for the 2026 World Cup in return.
“No, certainly not,” he said, adding that his conversation with U.S. Soccer head Sunil Gulati was “about the elections”.
“I spoke with many delegates during the two rounds, trying to tell them they should vote for football and vote for me.”
FIFA said it had invested 110 million Swiss francs (79 million pounds) in renovating the building with 30 million Swiss francs spent on the museum itself, which features more than 1,000 exhibits.
“This is the place where football will be lived and breathed,” said Infantino. “Here you can catch the football virus, if you are not already a carrier. This is only about football.”
“It’s become a great museum with attention to the worldwide development of football.”
Infantino distanced himself from Blatter, whose ban meant he was not able to attend the opening, in comments published by the Swiss newspaper Sonntagsblick on Sunday.
“Sepp Blatter characterised one era at FIFA. I hope that I will characterise a different era at FIFA,” fellow Swiss Infantino said.
“Infantino is Infantino. Blatter is Blatter.”
Infantino also distanced himself from former European soccer boss Michel Platini who had been favourite to succeed Blatter until he was placed under investigation and, like Blatter, banned for six years.
“I’m my own man. Otherwise you don’t win such an election. But I still have a good rapport with Platini. Basically, I get on with everyone.”
Infantino, who has four daughters, added: “The future of football belongs to women.”
(Additional reporting by Joshua Franklin, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Clare Fallon)
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