Infantino's style similar to Blatter
MANAMA, Bahrain (AP):
Regardless of his intentions, Gianni Infantino's rhetoric and actions at his second congress leading world football did little to signal a clean break from the discredited Sepp Blatter era.
And that's after having more than a year to reshape the tainted FIFA presidency in his image and the chance to banish Blatter's acolytes.
Critics contest that the appearance, at least, is of a governing body slipping back into the murky traits of the Blatter regime, with opaque back-room dealings, decisions taken within closed circles, and debate appearing to be suppressed.
The FIFA ethics prosecutor ousted by Infantino this week was explicit when asked how the past and present presidents differ: only their Swiss birthplaces.
The manner in which Infantino has accumulated power is at odds with the recommendations of the reforms he helped to craft after the 2015 scandal. The presidency, crafted into an executive position by Blatter, was intended to become more ambassadorial in the new era, with the secretary general gaining the authority of a CEO. At the FIFA Congress in Bahrain, Fatma Samoura marked her first year as secretary general by being relegated to a bit-part role.
The executive committee, so discredited under Blatter as members were led away in handcuffs and toppled on FIFA ethics violations, morphed into the council last year with a membership swelling to almost 40.
And far from the body becoming more transparent, members were warned about speaking publicly about the decisions immediately after Tuesday's meeting in Manama. The need for clarity was heightened by the uncertainty over why Borbely was jettisoned along with ethics judge Hans-Joachim Eckert. FIFA's hierarchy sidestepped requests for detail, taking almost 24 hours to formulate a partial response.
Infantino counters that the "new FIFA is a democracy, it is not a dictatorship". And there was refreshing messaging from Infantino notably embracing corruption investigations publicly in a manner often deficient within the International Olympic Committee leadership.
But a strident warning to corrupt officials to leave soccer was eclipsed by the off-the-cuff attack on "fake news" and "FIFA bashing" he blamed for undermining his presidency.
In blaming the messenger before later backtracking in genial exchanges with reporters Infantino was channelling the divisionary rhetoric of Blatter. And Blatter is the last person Infantino should be trying to emulate.
After a second congress was overshadowed by criticism of his use of presidential power, Infantino has two years remaining of his mandate to truly lead FIFA into the new, open era promised.