Cardiff (United Kingdom) (AFP) – New FIFA president Gianni Infantino on Friday blasted the storm of corruption allegations engulfing the 2018 and 2022 World Cups as “a lot of speculation” but backed up by “not a single fact.”
Ever since the showpiece events were controversially awarded to Russia and Qatar, the ruling body, as well as Infantino’s suspended predecessor Sepp Blatter, has battled a series of allegations over the awarding.
Infantino was elected to football’s top job at a FIFA Congress last week after serving as the UEFA secretary-general and he was keen to distance himself from Blatter’s tainted regime.
“I was not part of of these processes in those times. However, now I’m the FIFA president. I’m a pragmatic person,” Infantino told a news briefing on the sidelines of a meeting of the International Football Association Board (IAFB).
“We need to deliver two World Cups — one in two years’ time, one in six years, for decisions which were taken six years ago.”
But on the allegations of fraud, the 45-year-old Swiss-Italian lawyer added: “Following (those decisions) there has been a lot of speculation, a lot of allegations, but not a single fact, in six years.
“I do not want to participate in any speculation. I want to work and to help Russia and Qatar to deliver the best World Cups ever.”
Infantino is aware that the awarding of the 2006 World Cup to Germany and the 2010 edition in South Africa have also courted controversy leading to a series of investigations and reports.
Just hours before Infantino met the media in the Welsh capital on Friday, an independent inquiry reported that it was unable to rule out Germany having bought votes to secure the 2006 World Cup.
Infantino knows that the awarding of the 2026 World Cup — with the likes of the United States and Canada expected to make hosting bids — must be seen to be above board and clean.
“We need to make sure that we do everything that we possibly can, not only to prevent strange things happening around the bidding process, but also to prevent the perception that strange things could happen,” he said.
“An absolute guarantee on everything — that is certainly the commitment that I want to give, because I think the credibility of FIFA is at stake here and we have to get the 2026 absolutely right.”
In a sign of a new broom sweeping through FIFA, Infantino opted for budget airline easyJet to fly to Wales from Germany.
“It was the best option,” he said. “There will certainly be times when I will make private trips, if I have to go to three countries on the same day, for example, I will not always travel with easyJet.”
For the new man in charge, it is a case of everyone inside FIFA being responsible for cleaning up the game and its image.
“Everyone at FIFA must work to optimise costs — that was my job with UEFA. It is not our money, it’s football’s money and I’m very serious about this,” said Infantino, who will be a spectator at the Swansea-Norwich Premier League game on Saturday.
He also said that Blatter, who had ruled FIFA since 1998, had offered his congratulations on winning the election.
“I briefly talked with him, to receive his congratulations, and that’s it,” he said.