ZIFA have joined the international football world by formally congratulating newly-elected FIFA president Gianni Infantino following the Swiss lawyer’s victory in the presidential election last Friday.
Infantino takes over from Sepp Blatter as the most powerful man in world football.
ZIFA president, Philip Chiyangwa, who was in Zurich along with other association leaders who make up the FIFA general assembly, formally wrote to Infantino on his return to Harare to extend the local soccer body’s congratulations.
“Following your election as FIFA president on 26th February, the Zimbabwe Football Association join the international football family in congratulating you.
“Your ascendancy to the highest office at FIFA is testament to the confidence and support the global family of football have in you Mr President.
“Your election heralds a new chapter in the history of global football and my association would like to vouch our unequivocal support for your person and office as you take football to the Holy Grail of the world’s most beautiful game.
“Wishing you luck in your new appointment,’’ wrote Chiyangwa.
Infantino’s election has raised high hopes to member associations with the FIFA president having pledged to give $1.25 million a year for the next four years, funds which ZIFA, battling to shake off a crippling debt, would be eagerly waiting to receive and revive their development programmes.
The newly-elected president faces an uphill battle to overhaul FIFA’s battered reputation as he seeks to restore the trust and credibility of the organisation following months of chaos and crisis.
The 45-year-old, who has been at UEFA for 15 years and its general secretary for the past seven, in his victory speech promised to restore the beautiful game to its former FIFA glory.
“I don’t agree that football is divided. Today was an election, not a war. I’m a candidate of the whole world and football. We have to build bridges, not walls,” he said in his acceptance speech.
Just like Chiyangwa, South African Football Association president Danny Jordaan congratulated Infantino on his victory, saying he had his work cut out for him.
Jordaan, who did not attend the FIFA election in Zurich last Friday, said the new president’s “track record at UEFA speaks volumes if you look at how the Champions League and all other competitions have been run. He has the experience to turn FIFA around.”
“For the first time in many years, FIFA reported a loss of about R150 million and sponsors have withdrawn from FIFA. He has to turn that around and clean FIFA’s image.”
Infantino, who only entered the contest after Michelle Platini was ruled out, will also face immediate financial problems.
Acting secretary-general Markus Kattner said “general uncertainty” caused by the crisis meant FIFA was $550 million (500 million euros) behind in its $5 billion budget target for 2015-2018.
The shortfall could complicate Infantino’s ability to deliver on a campaign pledge of more than doubling the amount given back to national associations to over $1.2 billion in total every four years.
Hours before he was elected, FIFA members approved a reform package that aims to limit the powers of the new president and to end the corruption that prevailed under Blatter.
The president will become more like a corporate chairman of the board, providing strategic guidance but with less management authority.
FIFA’s executive committee, which had become an epicentre of graft allegations, has been rebranded as a FIFA council.
It will operate like a corporate board of directors.
Measures such as declaring the salary of the new president to improve financial transparency were also included.
According to reports from Zurich sponsors gave a cool reaction to the measures.
“We urge FIFA’s new leadership to prioritise their implementation,” major backer Visa said of the reforms.
“As we have said before, we believe it is in the best interests of FIFA, the fans, sponsors and everyone involved, that there is long-term independent oversight of the reforms.’’
Atlanta-based FIFA backers Coca-Cola said in a statement that deeds, not words, regarding accountability will be the critical factor in judging future support of Infantino’s FIFA.
“Under Mr Infantino’s leadership, FIFA must regenerate itself,’’ it said.