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FIFA Elects New Leader To Replace Blatter
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FIFA Elects New Leader To Replace Blatter

Sports

FIFA Elects New Leader To Replace Blatter

FIFA Elects New Leader To Replace Blatter
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Gianni Infantino is the new leader of FIFA, replacing the disgraced Sepp Blatter. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro speaks to ESPN's Howard Bryant about whether soccer will see any real changes.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

It's time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yesterday, the world's soccer organization, FIFA, elected a new president, but a new face might not be enough to salvage FIFA's image following last year's scandal that brought down many in the governing body. ESPN's Howard Bryant joins us now to talk all things football. Hi, Howard.

HOWARD BRYANT: Good morning, how are you?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'm all. So Gianni Infantino replaces Sepp Blatter as the leader of FIFA. Who is he, what can we expect of him, is he a reformer?

BRYANT: Well, that's a great question. Those are all great questions, though, but we know who he is. He's a Swiss - the second Swiss to head FIFA, following Sepp Blattter, who is now facing or in the middle of an eight-year ban. I think that's a great question as to whether or not he's going to be a reformer. One of the big questions obviously with the scandal that has rocked this entire - the largest sport governing body in the world has been whether or not this organization can turn the corner.

And the one thing that Infantino has said is that he wants to move FIFA forward, whatever that means. And transparency was one of the big questions and that was of course the big - the first fail...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right.

BRYANT: ...Which the body promised transparency. And what did we get? We got a secret ballot, which led to his presidency. So that's the first fail, but the next thing, too, is there's a big difference between change and reform. The FBI and the investigation that rocked FIFA created change, but when you change from within, you wonder if it's going to be more of the same. And he is an insider, so he's got a lot of work to do to convince people that he's different.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, he's the ultimate insider. And the whiff of scandal is still strong. Is there anything the new president could do to restore the governing body's reputation?

BRYANT: Well, he's got a 90-day plan. That was one of the things that he was running on was his 90-day reform plan. I think that they should go much, much bigger than the small reforms. I think that one of the things, if you are a casual fan, or even if you're a big fan of the World Cup, one of the big questions that led to all of this was how on Earth did a nation the size of my hand, Qatar, get the World Cup for 2022? And I think that maybe one of the things that they should do is really look at that, get the World Cup out of Qatar, put it in the United States, put in a place - or Europe someplace - where it would show that they were actually aware and convinced that this was pure corruption and it was time to try some thing different. I think that would send a huge message to me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, let's turn now to the Olympics, another big mega-event, which opens in Brazil in August. Yesterday, the CDC issued its first explicit warning saying pregnant women or women and their partners who are considering becoming pregnant should avoid traveling to Brazil because of the Zika virus.

BRYANT: Yeah. This is gigantic and this is huge because we already have, on the women's side in the United States, the best team in the world - the women's national soccer team. Hope Solo, the goaltender, had already said that she had been concerned about going and really didn't know if she wanted to go until there was some sort of feeling that this was a problem that had been solved, and clearly it hasn't been. And I think it's a huge issue, one, because the Olympics are very, very close. You're not going to be able to change the venue. And it's going to be a huge issue for the athletes that don't go because this is not the NBA or it's not baseball where you've got a game tomorrow. You work four years to get here, and so if you miss this you're not going to be having - you're not going to have a chance to do this again for another four years. And so the sacrifice would be pretty big, but then again, also, do you really want to go down there with this sort of risk?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, briefly, 200,000 Americans were also expected to travel to Brazil for the games.

BRYANT: Exactly.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, this could potentially be a big damper on already depressed ticket sales there.

BRYANT: There's no question about it. And let's face it. Rio as well - the infrastructure after the World Cup, as well, they could use a success, and this is not helping.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: All right, Howard Bryant of espn.com and ESPN the Magazine, thanks so much.

BRYANT: My pleasure.

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