FIFA Chooses Continuity

Fans of global football (i.e. United States soccer) all cheered last Fall when long time FIFA President Sepp Blatter was suspended from his post amid a hailstorm of corruption charges. Why? Because it appeared that the international sport was finally prepared to clean up its act and appoint new leaders to restore the public trust.

But can the global football community trust FIFA to purge itself of its tradition of dishonesty? Last week, that question was put to the test when the global congress of FIFA delegates elected its new leader.

To be sure, this wasn’t the first time that a professional sports organization attempted to cleanse itself of corrupt behavior. For instance, after several members of the Chicago White Sox accepted payments from gamblers to intentionally lose the 1919 Word Series, Major League Baseball owners appointed Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis to the position of Commissioner.

They granted him unilateral and unrestricted authority to clean up the game. Landis, an outsider with no prior experience in baseball, immediately banned the accused White Sox players from the sport for life.

So, last week, did the Zurich, Switzerland based global football federation similarly appoint an outsider to be its new leader? Not at all; FIFA’s electors selected Gianni Infantino instead.

Since 2009, Infantino has served as the head of the European football association UEFA, based in Nyon, Switzerland (a suburb of Geneva). Immediately after his election, he was accused of assuring American officials that he would support the assignment of the 2026 World Cup to the United States in return for their support.

On the one hand, one can argue that Infantino is an experienced football administrator who has not been directly implicated in the corruption scandal that has tarred FIFA. And if continuity is a desirable goal, then FIFA has certainly met this goal by replacing the outgoing Swiss based President of its global federation with the incoming Swiss based leader of its European affiliate.

On the other hand, though, one cannot help but feel a bit disappointed by FIFA’s refusal to make a clean and complete break with its recent history. Although there are times when continuity is helpful, this may well be a time when discontinuity — and, indeed, outright disruption — is necessary.