Gianni Infantino: FIFA's First Italian President

Illustrated by Jeannette Khouri

Infantino took over as FIFA president in February 2016, just months after his predecessor, Sepp Blatter, resigned after a 17-year scandal-plagued reign. In June 2019, he was re-elected as FIFA President. He was elected to the International Olympic Committee in January 2020.

Prior to becoming FIFA's president, he was the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Director of Legal Affairs and General Secretary. Infantino served as the General Secretary of UEFA since October 2009, having joined the organization in 2000.

He oversaw a team of over 400 people who contributed to the further strengthening of both national team and club football in Europe, as well as UEFA's role as a respected and credible international governing body.

He has increased UEFA's efforts to provide a democratic and sustainable environment for European football while at the helm of the organization's administration and in collaboration with the Executive Committee. This has been accomplished through initiatives such as Financial Fair Play, improved commercial support, and a greater role in decision-making for Member Associations of all sizes. He also supervised the expansion of UEFA's competitions at all levels of the game, including the exponential growth of the UEFA Champions League and the expansion of the UEFA European Football Championships.

Gianni led the fight in Europe against social ills and threats to football's integrity, such as racism and discrimination, violence and hooliganism, as well as match fixing.

Infantino was born in Brig, Switzerland, on March 23, 1970. He is the son of two Italian immigrants from Calabria and Lombardy. He went to the University of Fribourg to study law.

Infantino is a polyglot who speaks seven languages: Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Arabic.

Infantino joined UEFA in August 2000 and was named Director of UEFA's Legal Affairs and Club Licensing Division in January 2004. He was appointed UEFA's Deputy General Secretary in 2007 and Secretary General in October 2009. UEFA implemented Financial Fair Play and improved commercial support for smaller national associations during his tenure.

He oversaw the expansion of UEFA Euro 2016 to 24 teams and was involved in the creation of the UEFA Nations League and UEFA Euro 2020, which were held in 13 (now 11) European nations at the time.

In response to the recent scandal and acts of violence and corruption, primarily in Greek football, the Greek government decided to introduce a new sports law in 2015. As UEFA's general secretary, Gianni Infantino led the negotiations with the Greek government and backed the Hellenic Football Federation's warning to Greece that it faced suspension from international football for government meddling.

Infantino served on the FIFA Reform Committee. On October 26, 2015, he received approval from the UEFA Executive Committee to run for president at the 2016 FIFA Extraordinary Congress. He confirmed his candidacy and submitted the necessary declarations of support on the same day. He promised that the FIFA World Cup would be expanded to forty teams.

On February 26, 2016, he was elected FIFA President for a three-year term.

The new FIFA head criticized the United States travel ban on several Muslim-majority countries in 2017. He stated, "When it comes to FIFA competitions, any team that qualifies for a World Cup, including its supporters and officials, must have access to the country; otherwise, there will be no World Cup. That is self-evident."

Following the 2018 World Cup, Infantino was awarded the Order of Friendship medal by Vladimir Putin in 2019.

When Infantino accepted preferential treatment from Russia and Qatar, the question of a potential conflict of interest was raised. The hosts had arranged private jets for Infantino and his entourage to travel to Russia and the Gulf state.

The investigatory chamber concluded that no violation had occurred. Furthermore, the chamber determined that "human resources issues, as well as Mr. Infantino's conduct with regard to his contract with FIFA, if any, constituted internal compliance issues rather than an ethical matter."

While the investigatory chamber discharged Infantino, the criticism continued. FC Bayern München Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge chastised Infantino for failing to keep his promises about transparency, democracy, and governance.

Further allegations surfaced in July 2020, when Infantino was accused of holding a secret meeting with Switzerland's Attorney General, Michael Lauber. Lauber offered to resign after a court ruled that he covered up the meeting and lied to supervisors during his office's investigation into FIFA corruption.

Infantino defended himself, claiming that "meeting with the attorney general of Switzerland is perfectly legitimate and perfectly legal. There is no violation of any kind.”

In terms of migrant workers, when asked about abuses suffered by migrant workers involved in the preparations for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, Infantino stated that migrant workers were given work and pay rather than charity and that they were proud to contribute to the stadium’s construction. Amnesty International, a human rights organization, has condemned the tournament, alleging that workers were subjected to forced labor.

Infantino married Lebanese Leena Al Ashqar, with whom he has four children. He supports the Italian club Inter Milan.

Related Articles