On Friday, the member nations of international soccer's governing body FIFA elected former UEFA secretary general Gianni Infantino as its new president, and we can feel reasonably good about it. Infantino wants to expand the World Cup field to 40 teams, which could be fun, and hasn't been accused of committing any human rights violations, unlike runner-up candidate and Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa.
In a glittering victory speech "from the heart" that wandered back and forth across six different languages, Infantino vowed to "restore the image of FIFA." He also said some very shiny things about more-than-doubling the development money dispensed to even the smallest of FIFA's member nations over the next four years.
All good stuff. And the referendum that passed earlier in the day that imposed term limits, the separation of soccer and business affairs, oversight from an independent audit and compliance company, and the inclusion of at least six women in a newly-created 36-member FIFA council? Even better.
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Still, it was difficult to leave the election feeling fulfilled, considering the way it went down.
Ahead of Friday's gathering in Zurich, U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati announced that he would be supporting presidential hopeful Prince Ali bin al-Hussein in a very munificent statement: "I have gotten to know Prince Ali over the past couple of years. He's a very active member of the Executive Committee and he is an active proponent of reform at FIFA. He is a successful president at the Jordanian FA. We have supported a number of initiatives he has led, whether it is in women's rights or in development work. But it really starts with his views on governance and reform."
Gulati did vote for Prince Ali on the first ballot, but told Infantino that the U.S. "would be with [Infantino] when it mattered."
There's nothing wrong with Gulati changing his vote. It's your God-given right to change your mind when you chance upon new information. I can appreciate that abstract notions like "loyalty" don't actually exist in politics. I watched House of Cards. But in an "Extraordinary FIFA Congress" for which transparency was one of the biggest sticking points, Gulati's Thursday announcement coupled with the moves he made on Friday played more like bait-and-switch.
Now, on a day when we're supposed to be rejoicing in the dawning of a new age in which FIFA steps into the light, I'm starting to think about just how many other things were done in secret. After all, the actual electoral process is the exact same one that allowed real-life-movie-villain Sepp Blatter to become "President for Life."
Infantino's visit to fellow candidate Tokyo Sexwale in South Africa this past Monday looks fishy now. UEFA's refusal to implement governance reforms as well as all those match-fixing scandals in Greece and Turkey last year look worse. His past fealty to Michel Platini doesn't look all that great either, considering Infantino only entered the race when Platini was banned for taking a "disloyal payment" in 2011 three months ago, and as silly as it is, the fact that he was born just six miles away from Sepp Blatter's birthplace feels like a thing. It almost definitely isn't, but it feels like one.
Still though, Infantino was never part of an inquisition that allegedly singled out and punished players that participated in pro-democracy protests. And thanks to the reforms that passed, we'll only have to deal with him for a predetermined period of time, so there's that.
We've taken some steps forward today, to be sure. But we're nowhere near out of the woods yet.