Moscow (AFP) – FIFA President Gianni Infantino said Wednesday that world football’s governing body was “clinically dead” when he took over following a corruption scandal that engulfed his predecessor Sepp Blatter.
Two years later, it was “very much alive” and full of “joy”, with a clear vision for its future, he said in his opening address to the FIFA Congress in Moscow on the eve of the opening match of the 2018 World Cup.
Blatter is being investigated by Swiss prosecutors for alleged corruption during his 17-year reign at the head of FIFA.
Elections that handed the World Cup to Russia in 2018 and Qatar in 2022 have since been the target of allegations of bribery and spelled the end for Blatter.
Infantino has put FIFA on a sound financial footing and ushered in the introduction of innovations such as the Video Assistant Referee system to analyse controversial on-pitch incidents during matches.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, who gave a short speech to the FIFA Congress, praised Blatter’s successor.
“We know that Infantino became the head of FIFA in difficult times but he has steered it well, like a true fighter,” Putin said.
Infantino, the former secretary general of football’s European governing body UEFA, was little known before he took over sport’s richest governing body.
The United States, Mexico and Canada, the three nations bidding to host the 2026 World Cup, helped gather support for his election.
It is thought Infantino will return the compliment by backing the bid, which faces competition from Morocco, in a vote of FIFA member nations later Wednesday.
The choice of the 2026 host nation will be made by up to 207 nations after the rules were changed to widen the voting college following the controversial ballots.
Russia and Qatar were picked by the 24-member FIFA Executive Committee, several members of which have been convicted on corruption charges.