Gianni Infantino has railed against criticism of FIFA, labeling it 'fake news' before admitting he couldn't say why. But even those in his organization are far from convinced that anything has changed.
Speaking at his second congress as FIFA president in Bahrain on Thursday, Infantino issued an impassioned defense against widespread criticism over the ousting of FIFA's top ethics officials - judge Hans-Joachim Eckert and prosecutor Cornel Borbely, who later accused the Swiss national of jeopardizing the reform of the organization.
In a speech that led many to draw comparisons to another president, America's Donald Trump, Infantino said he believed there was an agenda against FIFA, who have been hit by a series of scandals in recent years.
"Sadly, the truth is not what is necessarily true but what people believe is true," he said. "There is a lot of fake news and alternative facts about FIFA circulating. FIFA bashing has become a national sport in some countries."
He later acknowledged he could not support his comments with facts. Asked by reporters to provide examples of "fake news," Infantino said: "Generally, it's my feeling. It's not the media I was meaning. There are a lot of people spreading a lot of wrong and false information."
Dissent in the ranks
Others within FIFA were quick to distance themselves from their leader, including former presidential candidate and head of the Jordanian football federation Prince Ali, who said FIFA has "already lost the battle of public opinion."
Germany's Reinhard Grindel, a newly-elected member of Infantino's ruling council also criticized the nature of the departures of Eckert and Berbely.
"This is certainly not how we should make such sensitive decisions in the future," said Grindel, the German federation president.
Despite recent events, Infantino, who replaced the disgraced Sepp Blatter in February 2016, insisted the "crisis is over" for world football's governing body. However, a Kuwaiti member of his council recently abandoned plans to seek re-election after being accused of bribery by American authorities.
"We are rebuilding the credibility of FIFA. The new FIFA is a democracy. It is not a dictatorship," Infantino said. "New FIFA, it is a transparent organization, not an organization that is fiddling around with facts and figures. It is a deeply honest organization."
New prosecutor will investigate all cases
The candidates to replace Eckert and Borbely, Colombian lawyer Maria Claudia Rojas and Greek Vassilios Skouris, were approved by congress as their successors with 188 of 194 valid votes, while in other votes India's Mukul Mugdal was confirmed as governance committee chairman.
Rojas told globoesporte.com she would continue to investigate all cases opened by her predecessor.
It was also decided that FIFA will elect the host of the 2026 World Cup, the first with 48 teams, next year and not in 2020. Canada, the United States and Mexico have a joint bid and had initially hoped for fast-track proceedings with a vote in Bahrain but possible other bidders have now been given three months to declare their interest. Many believe the size of the tournament makes rival bids unlikely.