When Gianni Infantino was elected to take over from Sepp Blatter as President of FIFA in February 2016, he was entrusted with the unenviable task of extirpating the corruption that has plagued world football’s governing body for a deeply distressing number of years.
Given the excessive scale of the corruption that had engulfed FIFA prior to Infantino becoming president, it’s unsurprising that his task of steering the organisation back onto a reputable path was going to entail extensive arduousness.
Many believed that Infantino had completely avoided being at all tainted by the corruption that had previously submerged FIFA.
However, when the Panama papers raised questions over the role he played in a television rights deal whilst working for UEFA, it became clear, only a substantial effort, over a considerable amount of time, would allow the former lawyer to comprehensively unburden himself with any links to the corruption of the previous regime.
Nonetheless, being dragged into controversy hasn’t stalled the efforts of FIFA’s new president, to endear himself to the football fans that the previous FIFA regime showed utter contempt for.
There are many ways Infantino has tried embrace the fans that were previously alienated, he has shown an openness to experiment with video action referees, something that many supporters felt was long overdue, he also played a vital role in introducing stricter financial fair play guidelines into the game, which have been welcomed by the vast majority of people in football.
Although Infantino’s relatively short tenure as FIFA president has been far from flawless, it’s undeniably commendable that he has initiated the process of reaffirming trust between justifiably sceptical football fans and FIFA.
In spite of all the positive aspects of Infantino’s presidency, with the 2018 World Cup in Russia nearing, the convoluted issue of potential state sponsored doping within the Russian national football team looms precariously over his legacy, threatening to derail all of his efforts to affirm clarity and trust back into FIFA.
The widespread state sponsored doping scandal and cover up in Russia led to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) recommending that all Russian athletes be banned from the Rio Olympics in 2016.
As of yet, there is no proof that the scandal was extended to the Russian national football team, however, a damming report by The Mail On Sunday revealed that the full 23 man squad from the World Cup in 2014 are under investigation by FIFA.
Furthermore, it has also been discovered through e-mails released by WADA, that within the 2013 and 2014 Russian men’s under-17 and under-21 national teams, there were a total of five suspicious samples found and subsequently covered up.
In preparation for next summer’s World Cup, Russia has just played host to the Confederations Cup and with a great deal of righteousness, Infantino heaped praise on the way they hosted the tournament.
What’s disconcerting however, is that five Russian players who were part of their Confederations Cup squad are currently under investigation as part of the World Cup squad of 2014.
The issue not only provides Infantino with his first complex challenge as president, it also provides him with an unforeseen opportunity to restore faith in FIFA.
There is an incredibly strong possibility that football fans from all over the world will resonate with the words spoken by Germany’s renowned coach Joachim Loew.
Speaking prior to Germany’s Confederations Cup semi-final victory over Mexico, the World Cup winning coach urged FIFA to show transparency whilst dealing with the issue.
If there really are names there, they shouldn’t be hidden at all, I can’t prove it and no one apparently can if we are not having the facts here on the table.
In this moment, Lowe echoed a sentiment that’s felt by much of the footballing world.
Lowe isn’t the only creditable figure to publicly speak out about FIFA’s handling of the issue.
Dick Pound is the former head of WADA and is the longest-serving current member of the International Olympic Committee, and he pleaded with FIFA to show honesty and be open with their findings.
It is incumbent on them to say what steps they are taking, what they find, and take whatever action necessary to protect the integrity of sport.
Pound went onto state the importance of timing and why it’s vital that the issue gets dealt with before next summer’s showpiece event.
There is a huge onus on FIFA to reach a sensible conclusion on these matters before the World Cup takes place. Even within a governing body with as little credibility remaining as FIFA, if you were a senior official you wouldn’t want to be part of a body that ignores this.
What will be even more distressing for football fans, is that Pound was keen to publicly emphasise the severity of the issue, not only in Russia, but within the whole of football.
There has been an institutional denial of doping in football for years, I’ve seen too many presentations by FIFA, straight out of fantasy land, about how they don’t have a problem. They absolutely have to take this case seriously.
For Infantino, how he deals with this complex issue may well be legacy defining.
Will he go down in history as the president who blissfully accepted the baton of corruption from Blatter, or will he be the president who sought to bring integrity back to FIFA?