FIFA elects Gianni Infantino as new president ahead of Sheikh Salman
Gianni Infantino will succeed Sepp Blatter as the new president of FIFA after winning an election that went to two rounds on Friday in Zurich.
The 45-year-old UEFA general secretary, a lawyer and sports administrator who joined European football's governing body in 2000 and rose through the ranks, became FIFA's first new president in 18 years.
Infantino was elected in the second round of voting with 115 of the 207 votes from FIFA's national associations, defeating Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa, who had 88.
Prince Ali Bin Al Hussein of Jordan retained four votes, and former FIFA executive Jerome Champagne of France had none once voting went to a second ballot after no candidate earned the required two-thirds majority of votes in the initial voting process.
"Dear friends, I cannot express my feelings in this moment," Infantino said in his acceptance speech. "I told you I went through a journey, an exceptional journey, a journey which made me meet many fantastic people -- many people who love football, who live football, who breathe football every day, and many people who deserve that FIFA is highly respected.
"And we will restore the image of FIFA and the respect of FIFA, and everyone in the world will applaud us and will applaud all of you for what we'll do in FIFA in the future. We have to be proud of FIFA, and everyone has to be proud of FIFA and we have to be proud of what we'll do together in FIFA."
In the first ballot, Infantino fell 50 votes short of securing the election but still led with 88 votes, followed by Sheikh Salman with 85, Prince Ali with 27 and Champagne with seven. In the second round of voting, the winner needed only a simple majority, and voters were allowed to change their selections.
The United States voted for Infantino in the second round after initially supporting Prince Ali of Jordan, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati confirmed.
It was the first time voting for the FIFA presidential election had reached a second round since 1974, when Joao Havelange of Brazil became the first non-European president ahead of England's Sir Stanley Rous.
Blatter praised Infantino's "experience, expertise, strategic and diplomatic skills" in a statement.
The Inter Milan-supporting Infantino was better known as being the face of televised Champions League draws until this campaign. Now the Swiss-Italian has responsibility for the whole of world football.
He had originally been included on the ballot as a stand-in for UEFA president Michel Platini, who was barred from running after FIFA banned him from all football-related activity over a 2 million Swiss franc ($2m, £1.35m) "disloyal payment" that Blatter had made to him. Infantino had said he would stand down if Platini's ban had been overturned.
Infantino is credited with running UEFA's day-to-day operations during a commercial boom.
He is from Brig in the Valais region of Switzerland, less than 6 miles from Blatter's hometown of Visp, and inherits Blatter's governing body with its reputation at rock-bottom and a far-reaching, global bribery scandal hitting staff morale and FIFA's cash flow.
In his pre-election speech on Friday, Infantino spoke in five languages for the first 75 seconds without notes and portrayed himself as a leader for the world, not just his own wealthy confederation.
"We have to get Europe to do much more,'' Infantino said.
During his campaign, he promised more key FIFA gifts to member federations: more guaranteed funding from FIFA's $5 billion-plus World Cup revenue, more places in an expanded 40-team tournament and more opportunities to stage the World Cup with multinational regional hosting.
Rival Sheikh Salman claimed Infantino would bankrupt FIFA as it faced a $550 million shortfall in the 2015-18 World Cup cycle.
Sheikh Salman was expected to lead the first round with backing from Africa and the Asian confederation he has led since 2013. Still, he had been the most criticised and scrutinised candidate throughout the four-month campaign.
The issue of Bahrain's human rights record was often cited by Persian Gulf activists but had not seemed to seriously trouble voters outside Europe. Sheikh Salman has strongly denied claims about his role in the Arab Spring protests of 2011 when he was Bahrain's federation president.
South African businessman Tokyo Sexwale had also been running for the presidency but withdrew from the race dramatically right before voting began, ending his address by saying, "It's your problem now."
Blatter was voted in on five occasions, including in May, but he stepped aside days later. Law enforcement agencies from Switzerland and the United States are both conducting large-scale investigations into the systemic corruption of Blatter's tenure.
Platini and Blatter had their initial eight-year suspensions reduced to six by FIFA's Appeals Committee, though both men are expected to take their battle to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Earlier on Friday, FIFA members voted in favour of proposed reforms to address issues of governance, accountability, transparency and diversity.
"FIFA has gone through sad times, moments of crisis, but those times are over," Infantino said. "We need to implement the reform and implement good governance and transparency. We also need to have respect.
"We're going to win back this respect through hard work, commitment and we're going to make sure we can finally focus on this wonderful game that is football."