Gianni Infantino's rise to FIFA president in one of the top soccer stories of 2016.
If 2015 was the year that FIFA (or, more specifically, former president Sepp Blatter) imploded under the weight of its own scandals, then 2016 was to be the year that soccer’s governing body got back on its feet and started reforming itself. It remains to be seen how much of that will actually happen, but we found out in February who will be in charge of making sure it does: former UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino.
At the 2016 FIFA Extraordinary Congress in February, the Swiss-Italian was a surprise winner in what was the most closely-watched FIFA presidential election of all time. Infantino narrowly won a first round of voting over pre-election favorite Sheik Salman of Qatar, but fell short of the two-thirds majority needed to win the presidency. Instead, the voting went to a second round for the first time since 1974, which gave the game’s power brokers (notably U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati) a chance to work the room with the eyes of the soccer world watching. Needing a simple majority to win in the second round, Infantino won decisively.
In less than a year on the job, Infantino’s impact has already been felt, even if he (and by extension FIFA) continue to be the subject of scandals. Infantino was implicated in the April release of the Panama Papers, and faced an inquiry from the FIFA Ethics Committee into his actions while general secretary of UEFA.
Infantino has also been a primary driving force behind the discussed expansion of the World Cup, though what form that will take is yet to be determined (we have our own thoughts on this, of course). The new president has also proposed measures to make the club transfer system more transparent, including making payment to agents public and punishing clubs that horde players only to send many them out on loan.
How many of these measures will pass, and how many of these scandals will stick? We’ll find out in 2017, on another season of As The FIFA World Turns.