ZURICH, Switzerland — Gianni Infantino looked out at the people who rule global soccer, the members of FIFA. Once, twice, he tried to begin his speech, clearly stunned. He had just won the FIFA presidency, perhaps the most powerful position in sports, but seemed to be still sorting out how it had happened.
For months it appeared that soccer's beleaguered governing body might careen from one crisis — widespread corruption allegations and arrests among its leadership — to another. Sheikh Salman bin Ebrahim al-Khalifa, a member of Bahrain's royal family who has faced questions about possible connections to the bloody crackdown of pro-democracy protests in his home country, was considered the favorite to become the next FIFA president in Friday's election.
Instead, Infantino prevailed in an upset, as FIFA's voting members chose him, a Swiss administrator, to follow the suspended Sepp Blatter, once just a Swiss administrator himself, and try to lead global soccer out of its darkest period. Infantino, 45, becomes just the ninth president in FIFA's 111-year history.
Earlier in the day, however, the FIFA members accepted a significant shift, ratifying an extensive package of governance reforms — including term limits for top executives and enhanced independent oversight — before electing Infantino, who will leave his job as secretary general of European soccer's governing body.
The long-derided executive committee — notorious for decades of scandals, bribery and political intrigue — will be replaced by a 36-member FIFA council that must include at least six women.
"A new era has been started as we speak," Infantino said. "You will be proud of FIFA. You will be proud of what FIFA will do for football."
Infantino gained a startling 27 votes from one ballot to the next, including that of U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati.