Gianni Infantino upsets Skeikh Salman for FIFA president

In a surprise, UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino, the accidental candidate who was only running because his boss Michel Platini was banned from soccer, beat AFC president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, the 50-year-old member of the Bahraini royal family, on the second round for FIFA president.

FIFA Election
Round 1 (138 needed):
Gianni Infantino 88
Sheikh Salman 85
Prince Ali 27
Jerome Champagne 7

Round 2 (104 needed):
Gianni Infantino 115
Sheikh Salman 88
Prince Ali 4
Jerome Champagne 0

U.S. Soccer voted for Prince Ali in Round 1, but 20 of Prince Ali's 27 votes and Frenchman Jerome Champagne's seven votes went to Infantino -- assuming all other voters stayed the same -- and easily put him over the hurdle of 104 votes needed for victory.

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati congratulated Infantino's victory without saying whom U.S. Soccer voted for, but Gulati was seen huddling with Infantino throughout the break between the two rounds.

Sheikh Salman's camp had expressed optimism it had more than enough votes from an Africa-Asia bloc, but it fell apart, signaling the end of the FIFA bloc system as we know it.

It was the first FIFA presidential election that went to the second round since Brazilian Joao Havelange beat Stanley Rous in 1974.

Infantino grew up in Brig, Switzerland, five miles from Blatter's hometown of Visp. Every FIFA president has been European except Havelange with the very European name of Jean-Marie Faustin Godefroid de Havelange (his parents were Belgian).

The call for a non-European leader was powerful in a game increasingly dominated by a small elite of European clubs, but Sheikh Salman fell short in swaying enough voters to go with him. There was a strong ABS -- "Anyone But Salman" -- element in opposition to Sheikh Salman whose politics were considered more in line with the crony system Blatter used to stay in office for four-plus terms. He -- and his lawyers -- vigorously defended allegations of having had a role in abuse of pro-democracy protesters in Bahrain in 2011 and did not seem to be a major issue in the race.

Sheikh Salman has strongly denied claims about his role in the Arab Spring protests of 2011 when he was Bahrain's soccer federation president.

Infantino, who ran for president of his local club at the age of 18, promising his mother would wash the team's uniforms if he won, had been a placeholder, entering the race as the UEFA candidate if Platini could not sort out his troubles with FIFA's ethics committee. Indeed, Platini was suspended for eight years in December and withdrew from the face in January when it became clear he'd be unable to finish the appeals process before the election.

Infantino, who spoke in six languages in his pre-election address Friday at the Hallenstadion in Zurich, ran on a platform of increasing payments to all of FIFA's members.

"The money of FIFA is your money," he said. "Not the money of the FIFA president."

Skeikh Salman said he'd focus on helping smaller federations, offering a more conservative approach to FIFA's spending plans.

FIFA is facing a shortfall of $550 million from its target for the 2015-18 cycle because no new World Cup sponsors have been signed since Blatter announced plans to step down in June 2015 and it has been reeling from legal expenses believed to be $10 million a month as it works with U.S. and Swiss authorities to investigate corruption within the organization.

“I want to be the president of all of you," Infantino said. "I travelled through the globe and I will continue to do this. I want to work with all of you to restore and rebuild a new era where we can put football in the centre of the stage,” Infantino told the delegates after his victory. Fifa has gone through sad times, moments of crisis. But those times are over. We need to implement the reforms, we need to have good governance and transparency. But we also need to have respect. We will regain this respect by hard work and dedication, so we can again concentrate on the wonderful game of football.”

It was reported that Blatter had met with Infantino at Christmas and gave him some election tips.

"I congratulate Gianni Infantino sincerely and warmly on his election as the new president," Blatter said in a statement. "With his experience, expertise, strategic and diplomatic skills he has all the qualities to continue my work and to stabilize FIFA again."

4 comments about "Gianni Infantino upsets Skeikh Salman for FIFA president".
  1. John Soares, February 26, 2016 at 1:47 p.m.

    Blatter on Infantino;........"continue my and to stabilize FIFA". Sure hope not:)

  2. Ric Fonseca, February 27, 2016 at 1:16 p.m.

    No Mr. Blatter, he will NOT continue your work,and let's hope that he is his OWN man. Accept the fact that you've had your run with FIFA, and now hopefully a new order of business is here. I will give Infantino the benefit of the doubt and will hope for the best. Danke schoen, Senor Blatter y adios!

  3. Anthony Petgrave, February 28, 2016 at 1:10 p.m.

    Watching Sunil on the day showed me, again that he is NOT a strategic thinker. On the floor, he looked more like a water boy for Gianni.

    IMHO, what he did was blight America’s prospect of seeing another World Cup before 2034. He in essence gave the 2026 World Cup to … CHINA; and since there won’t be consecutive World Cups out of European territory, 2030 will most likely go to The English.

    Sepp said it out loud … continue OUR work… FIFA may be $550million+ in the hole, but that can be made up relatively quickly with Chinese money, which has already started rolling in with Alibaba’s link to the Club World Cup, and I would expect a lot more to come from Asia in the not too distant future. The big winners on the day were UEFA and the AFC, IMHO.

    Sunil should have stuck with Price Ali (yes, he would have lost anyway) and allow the “lesser” members of CONCACAF to put Gianni over the top. The US(A) doesn’t need FIFA money to prosper, but many of the other members of CONCACAF does. The move would have appeared principled, and would have kept Sheik Salman at bay…. JMHO

  4. Carlos Figueroa replied, February 29, 2016 at 10:33 a.m.

    China can't even bid for 2026 because Qatar has 2022. After Platini's backstabbing, I'm sure Sunil got himself some guarantees. I doubt he's naive enough to not have learned the "fool me once..." lesson. Sunil demonstrated that the US is now, at least temporarily, a top world soccer power (politically.)

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