Gianni Infantino has been re-elected as FIFA president after suggesting the financial results under his leadership would keep an industry CEO in the job for life.
Infantino had no election opponent and won by acclaim instead of a formal vote by the congress of 211 member federations whose basic annual funding from FIFA has risen from £207,000 ($250,000) to £1.67million ($2m) since his first win in 2016.
FIFA had £3.3billion ($4bn) reserves after the World Cup in Qatar finished in December. It has conservatively forecast record revenue of at least £9.1bn ($11bn) through the men’s 2026 World Cup being hosted in North America.
Ahead of the election, FIFA had already approved plans to expand the Club World Cup to 32 teams in 2025, while Infantino opened the first ‘Pele’ stadium in Kigali after calling for all nations to name a ground after the Brazilian icon.
‘If a CEO tells the stakeholders that the products were multiplied by seven I believe that they would keep that CEO forever,’ Infantino told FIFA members. ‘They would love for this story to keep on going.
‘But I am here for a four-year cycle only,’ said Infantino, whose presidency can eventually run for 15 years through 2031.
The Swiss lawyer was first elected in 2016 with FIFA in crisis after a sweeping United States federal investigation of corruption removed a swath of soccer officials in the Americas. The fallout also removed veteran FIFA president Sepp Blatter from office within months of being re-elected.
Under Infantino, FIFA has created new and bigger competitions – raising its income and giving national teams more chances to qualify for the men’s and women’s World Cups, while facing down resistance from European soccer officials.
FIFA’s support for 2022 World Cup host Qatar, where Infantino moved to live in 2021, and his close ties to Saudi Arabian soccer have also caused unease among rights activists and some European member federations.
That spilled over at the World Cup in a dispute over FIFA and Qatari organisers blocking some team captains wearing an anti-discrimination armband.
‘To all those that love me, and I know there are so many, and those that hate me, and I know there are a few, I love you all of course, today especially,’ Infantino said after being elected.
In an earlier congress-opening address, Infantino said he took inspiration from Rwanda’s recovery from its genocidal civil war of the 1990s when his own campaign to become FIFA president in 2016 was struggling.
Infantino said he was told on a campaign visit to Rwanda he would not be supported. ‘Of course, I was pretty depressed, about to give up,’ he said, recalling a visit he made to the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
‘What this country has suffered and how this country came back up is inspiring for the entire world. So I certainly couldn’t give up because somebody is telling me something,’ he told member federations.