ZURICH (Reuters) - FIFA president Gianni Infantino said a wind of change was blowing through soccer’s scandal-plagued world governing body after announcing a sponsorship deal with China’s Wanda Group on Friday.
FIFA has been battered by a series of scandals and the deal, which runs until 2030 and includes the next four World Cups, came one day after the Swiss-based federation announced a $122 million loss for 2015, its first deficit since 2002.
The deal could help Infantino, elected last month to replace the disgraced Sepp Blatter, fulfill ambitious promises of greater funding for FIFA’s 209 member associations which he made during his campaign.
FIFA has been thrown into turmoil in the last year with criminal investigations underway into the sport in the United States, where several dozen former soccer officials have been indicted, and Switzerland.
Blatter has been banned by the federation’s own ethics committee for six years after being engulfed by the scandal.
“I cannot change the past but I can influence the future and make sure we will face all the challenges,” said Infantino after chairing his first executive committee meeting.
Wanda Group, China’s largest commercial property company, last year bought a 20 percent stake in Spanish club Atletico Madrid and Blatter’s nephew Philippe Blatter is chief executive of its subsidiary Wanda Sports Holding.
A source close to the deal said the sponsorship amount by Wanda will be “hundreds of millions of dollars”.
Wanda, who also bought Swiss sports marketing company Infront Sports & Media AG last year, said it will hold a press conference on Monday to give more details on the deal.
“I’m very aware of the potential situations that can exist when you have partners who may have subsidiaries, who have other commercial relationships as well,” said Infantino.
“In these circumstances, it’s even more important to do the right thing and to make sure that the contracts that you sign are really checked and we make sure that they are compliant with the highest standard.”
On Tuesday, FIFA applied to United States authorities for tens of millions of dollars in compensation from ex-officials indicted there, a move Infantino said marked a change in attitude.
“FIFA is moving from the defense to the attack and it must be clear to everyone who abuses FIFA and abuses football to enrich themselves that they will not only be excluded from football but you will have to give the money back,” said Infantino.
FIFA has struggled to find new sponsors since the current crisis erupted in May and has failed to replace top-tier partners Sony and Emirates after their deals expired at the end of 2014.
Despite its recent troubles, FIFA on Thursday revised its forecast revenue for the 2015-18 cycle upwards from $5 billion to $5.65 billion.
FIFA sources have said the federation faces a shortfall of about $500 million in its predictions if it fails to reach the targets set for sponsorship revenue.
”I have to say that the wind has changed now,“ Infantino said. ”The relationship with the partners is one of my key priorities.
“I will restore the trust in FIFA and this means we will attract new partners, new sponsors and there will be some more positive news to announce in the coming weeks in this respect.”
“2015 is in the past, the figures for 2016 will look very different.”
Infantino said he had also identified ways of saving up to $200 million a year, including potential restitution payments.
“We have financial challenges but we will overcome them quite easily,” he added.
Infantino was also confident of overcoming opposition from European clubs for his to plans to increase the World Cup from 32 teams to 40.
“When I put something in my head, I can be quite convincing so I will try to convince everyone including the European Club Association (ECA) of the merit of my arguments,” he said.
“Probably the half of the last 15 years of my life has been spent discussing with clubs, arguing with clubs, debating with clubs, and in the end always, always agreeing,” Infantino added.
The ECA represents over 200 clubs including all the major ones such as Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, Bayern Munich, Manchester United and Chelsea.
Additional reporting by Clare Jim in Hong Kong; Editing by Ed Osmond, Ken Ferris and Michael Perry