Michelle Kaufman

Michelle Kaufman: Gianni Infantino hiring as FIFA boss step in right direction

Time will tell whether FIFA will truly clean itself up and become the kind of organization soccer officials, players and fans can put their faith in. But one thing seems certain — the election Friday of Gianni Infantino as president seems to be a step in the right direction.

Infantino, vowing to “restore the image of FIFA,” replaces beleaguered Sepp Blatter, who won a fifth term last May but has since been banned from all soccer-related activities after FIFA was slammed with allegations of mass corruption.

Several high-ranking FIFA officials have been indicted by the U.S. Justice Dept. for bribery and money laundering. Swiss authorities are investigating possible improprieties in the bidding process surrounding the 2018 (Russia) and 2022 (Qatar) World Cups.

“I cannot express my feelings in this moment,” Infantino said Friday after winning the election in the second round of voting in Zurich. “I went through an exceptional journey, met many fantastic people who love football, who breathe football. I want to be the president of all of you, of all 209 nations.

“I want to work with all of you to work together and build a new era where we can put football at the center of the stage.”

Infantino, a 45-year-old Swiss-Italian lawyer, got 115 votes, beating Sheikh Salman (88) of Bahrain’s royal family, Jordan’s Prince Ali (4) and Jerome Champagne (0) of France.

“Everyone in the world will applaud us, and all of you, for what we do in FIFA in the future,” Infantino said.

They took some baby steps on Friday by passing reform legislation aimed at preventing future corruption. They are limiting the president to three terms in office. The Executive Committee will be replaced by a 36-member council, and a minimum of six women (one from each region) will be included.

The inclusion of more women among FIFA’s decision makers has been long overdue. They will offer a new perspective that is sorely needed, and I fully believe a more diverse boardroom is a better and probably less corrupt boardroom. That goes for soccer, and the rest of the business world.

The new reforms also require that the salaries for the president, all council members and the general secretary be published. And, there will be stringent integrity checks for the highest-ranking FIFA officials.

“This is a good day for the sport,” U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati told SI.com on Friday in Zurich. “The reforms got passed. We have a candidate [Infantino] that we’re supportive of, that we get along very well with, that understands the nuances of the American market. I think it’s a little early to talk about [World Cup] 2026, but you can rest assured that it got brought up in some of the discussions we’ve had over the last couple of days.”

TEAM USA IN BOCA RATON

The U.S. Women’s World Cup championship team will play Germany at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton on March 9 at 7:30 p.m. in a doubleheader that also features France vs. England (5 p.m.). The matches are part of a new four-team tournament called the SheBelieves Cup.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis, who lives in Palmetto Bay, released her roster Friday and it is loaded with familiar faces, such as goalkeeper Hope Solo (Seattle Reign FC), midfielder Carli Lloyd (Houston Dash) and forward Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride).

Tickets are on sale through ussoccer.com, by phone at 1-800-745-3000 and at Ticketmaster locations.

STRIKERS TO CHINA

The Fort Lauderdale Strikers leave Sunday for a two-week training trip in China, the first time an NASL team has traveled there in 40 years. They will play four games there, hold a tryout and accompany Brazilian legend/part-team owner Ronaldo as he opens his R9 soccer academies.

The Strikers open the tour Wednesday in Jinan with a scrimmage against Chinese Super League opponent Shandong Luneng. That team is coached by former Brazil national team boss Mano Menezes.

The next two matches will be in Chengdu, against third-division Chengdu Qianbao on Saturday, and Sichuan Longfa on March 10. Their final match is March 13 against Beijing Qihang.

Who’s leading

EPL: Leicester City (56), Arsenal and Tottenham (51), Manchester City (47), West Ham (43), Manchester United (41).

La Liga: Barcelona (63), Atletico Madrid (58), Real Madrid (54), Villarreal (49), Sevilla and Celta Vigo (41).

Serie A: Juventus (58), Napoli (57), Roma (53), Fiorentina (52), Inter Milan (48).

Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (62), Dortmund (51), Hertha Berlin (39), Bayer Leverkusen and Monchengladbach (35), Schalke 04 (34).

Ligue 1: PSG (73), Monaco (49), Nice, Stade Rennes and St Etienne (41).

On the tube

Sunday: Manchester United vs. Arsenal (9:05 a.m., NBCSN, TELEM), Liverpool vs. Manchester City (11:25 a.m., BEIN, BEINÑ).

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