By Corey Reddy
This past week, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), voted on who their new president would be after their disgraced former president Sepp Blatter stepped down from position amongst a corruption scandal that resulted in his 6-year ban from participating in any FIFA related activities.
After two rounds of voting, Gianni Infantino beat out Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa, Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein, and Jerome Champagne and was officially named FIFA’s ninth president. When you look at Infantino as a candidate, many concerns were raised about his similarities to Blatter and that he would do more of the same corruption that had been entwined in FIFA for years. Not only do Infantino and Blatter share Swiss nationality, but they have both been heavily involved with the evolution of European soccer over the course of the careers.
Before he was elected president, Infantino was the general secretary of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA), whose last elected president, Michel Platini, is currently suspended from any governing body of soccer for 6 years due to being a part of the corruption scandal that Blatter is currently suspended. When you look at the commonalities between Blatter and Infantino, the question has to be raised that if FIFA wants to remove this level of corruption from its sport, did they make the right decision to move soccer forward in the future. While concerns may be raised, Infantino explained to the general assembly of nations well enough for them to recognize that he is a step in the right direction for the sport and that he will bring the change to soccer that it needs to have going forward.
Of the proposed changes that Infantino proposed, many of them would be effective in curtailing the problems that FIFA currently faces. The first and probably most interesting one raised is introducing term limits on senior FIFA officials. Before this vote, any FIFA official could hold a position as long as they won their respected election. For example, Sepp Blatter was first elected in 1998 and won every single election up until he was forced out of his position.
With this proposal, I think it brings up an interesting point in our own government here in the United States. When you have senators and congressmen who can serve in our government as long as they win their elections, you have to bring into question their effectiveness to lead. We have a government that is made for the people by the people, and when someone is in the same position for 20 or 30 years, they start to lose the vision that made them want to get into politics in the first.
The decision of the Citizens United court case, which now allows corporations to spend money from their general treasury in order to support political candidate,s makes it very easy for candidates to be manipulated by the amount of money these companies can spend on them in order to promote their own views and ideas. When you compare the Citizens United decision to that of the FIFA corruption scandal, it is clear that if term limits are being put into place to curb corruption in an international organization, there is some merit to having them put into place here in the United States. The same day that Infantino was elected, an ethics reform package that included term limits of up to 12 years for the president and other executive members and it passed with an 89% of the countries voted to implement it. If 89% of any group of people think that this will work to help curtail a corruption problem in a large organization, it should definitely be considered to help curtail the corruption problem we have here in the United States.
One of the issues that Infantino also wants to address as president is how to increase the wealth generated from international soccer to underperforming nations and how to increase the popularity of soccer in these nations. His predecessor, Sepp Blatter, helped address this issue by giving each nation across the world an equal share of the profits made from international tournaments such as the World Cup. To put this into perspective, this means that nations with large populations and large soccer communities such as the United States or Brazil would receive the exact same amount of money as small, soccer-lacking nations like Andorra or Liechtenstein.
While Infantino plans on keeping that rule in place, he also plans on expanding the amount of teams that compete in the World Cup from 32 teams to 40 teams. While I do think expanding the pool of teams that will compete in the World Cup will help these developing nations, I disagree with the idea that every nation should get an equal share of international tournament. Rewarding nations for not competing does not encourage them to increase their involvement with soccer, but rewards them for their lack of participation. If you increase the number of teams that are able to compete in international or regional tournaments, you will reward people for actually putting out a team to compete and encourage them to keep up the effort for future international appearances.
With the current system in place, you allow teams to benefit from the efforts of other nations and there really is no place in any sport for that kind of behavior. Sports is supposed to be about the best players competing against one another for the best titles and by keeping Blatter’s system in place, you keep rewarding mediocrity and give nobody any incentive to improve.
If you look at the state of soccer right now, the only countries that have a drive and desire to do well are the ones that have soccer as an engrained part of their culture. If you want that mentality to transform itself in these smaller or developing nations, you need to stop treating every nation the same and put in a system of responsibility in place in order to help the betterment of the game everywhere.