Infantino begins search for non-European chief executive
The victory celebration over, new FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s first major decision in charge of the troubled world football organisation will be to appoint a secretary general, effectively a chief executive, to run day-to-day operations.
Since FIFA was founded in 1904, it has had 10 secretaries general, all from Europe, the game’s strongest continent.
US Soccer president Sunil Gulati is an economics professor at Columbia University and well connected politically in the United States.
This could be attractive to FIFA as it tries to improve relations with the US Department of Justice, which has charged dozens of soccer officials in the Americas with corruption, and is investigating allegations of bribery and corruption at FIFA itself.
A tweet from sports marketing executive Ricardo Fort suggesting Gulati would be a good choice sparked speculation in Zurich over the weekend. Fort was until recently a senior vice-president for sponsorship marketing with Visa Inc, one of FIFA’s global sponsors. Fort said his tweet reflected only his personal view, and Gulati was also not reachable for comment. Although there is no obvious candidate for the role from Asian football, an Asian candidate might also appeal to Infantino as he seeks to build bridges with other confederations, especially after he beat Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa to the FIFA presidency. The earliest Infantino could present a nomination would be an Executive Committee meeting in Zurich on March 17, but he may decide to wait until closer to May's FIFA Congress in Mexico City.
At an event in London during his campaign for Friday's presidential election, Infantino said: "I am convinced the general secretary of FIFA should not be a European. Why not an African?”
A source close to Infantino said on Monday that this "did not necessarily mean that an African would be chosen, more than he had not ruled out an African".
That said, there would be a strong African contender in the shape of the Moroccan Hicham El Amrani.
The Paris-educated 36-year-old became general secretary of the African confederation (CAF) on an interim basis in 2010 and was confirmed in the role in September 2011.
He had previously been deputy general secretary at CAF and worked for the Asian Football Confederation in competitions marketing. He graduated in 2004 from the FIFA Masters course, which was created to train future football administrators from around the world. El Amrani won the Young Leader of the Year award in 2015 from the ‘Leaders in Sports’ organisation partly in recognition of the way he handled the switch of the African Nations Cup to Equatorial Guinea after Morocco withdrew two months before the tournament because of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. “He is very, very capable,” said Swiss-based sports business consultant Joao Frigerio, who knows El Amrani from the FIFA Masters alumni association. “There is no doubt in my mind that he can be a great general secretary.”
El Amrani could not immediately be reached for comment.
Infantino said on Sunday that he would not rush into a decision about the secretary general, whose role takes on added importance in FIFA's new, reformed structure.
Although some of FIFA’s reform documents refer to a ‘CEO’, a source within FIFA indicated that for ‘tradition reasons’ the title of secretary general is likely to continue to be used. Infantino might also look to North America, whose administrators played a key role in swinging votes to the Swiss at Friday's FIFA Congress in Zurich.