FIFA president Infantino to stand unopposed for third term

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FIFA president Gianni Infantino is getting four more years in charge of football's governing body after no candidate stepped up to challenge him.

FIFA said on Thursday the 52-year-old Swiss lawyer was the only person to enter the race by the time the deadline passed overnight -- exactly four months before election day on March 16 in Kigali, Rwanda.

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Infantino won a five-candidate race in 2016 to replace Sepp Blatter, and was re-elected unopposed in 2019.

He's now set to stay in the job beyond the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Infantino's upcoming re-election to the $3 million-per-year job may not be his final term in office.

FIFA rules allow him to run again to stay in power for another World Cup cycle until 2031.

A quirk of FIFA's statutes means the first three years of Infantino's presidency -- when he completed an unfinished term started by Blatter -- does not count against the 12-year limit agreed to in reforms passed during a prolonged corruption crisis before his first election.

Outside of football, one political threat to Infantino's leadership is an investigation by two special prosecutors in Switzerland into his three undocumented meetings with then-attorney general Michael Lauber in 2016 and 2017 during American and Swiss federal investigations of football officials.

It is unclear how that case, which is being overseen by the Swiss parliament, is proceeding or how much jurisdiction it has over Infantino as a private citizen who could be accused of having sought an advantage from a public official.

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He has denied all wrongdoing. Infantino's current term in office, which started in June 2019, saw FIFA dip into its $2 billion-plus reserves and oversee emergency legal measures to help stabilise football through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The global health crisis almost entirely shut down World Cup qualifying games in 2020. The final tournament in Qatar starts on Sunday.

Infantino did not get approval for the biggest idea in the current presidential term -- doubling the number of men's World Cups to every two years in a planned overhaul of the calendar for national teams.

That plan was blocked last year by the continental football bodies of Europe and South America, UEFA and CONMEBOL, who teamed up to threaten a boycott of a biennial World Cup.

Tensions persist between FIFA and the two traditionally powerful continents, though they declined to propose or publicly support a challenger.

Candidates need pledges from five federations and to have been active in a formal football role for at least two of the past five years. Infantino has shored up his voting base in the 54-member Confederation of African Football, which has been led since March 2021 by his close ally, South African mining magnate Patrice Motsepe.

The 2026 World Cup in North America, the first with 48 teams instead of 32, will hugely raise the tournament records for attendance and revenue for FIFA, which is on track to earn nearly $7 billion in its four-year commercial cycle tied to the World Cup in Qatar.

Infantino has consistently staked his presidency on raising FIFA's income to steer more money toward federations worldwide.

He wants other countries to close the gap on Europe and South America, which have provided every team to play in all 21 World Cup finals.

Europe and South America will field competing bids to host the 2030 World Cup, which is set for a vote by FIFA members in 2024.

Ukraine was added in October to the co-hosting bid by Spain and Portugal, while 1930 host Uruguay is part of a centenary celebration bid with Argentina, Chile and Paraguay.

Infantino still needs to pass an integrity and eligibility check carried out by a FIFA-appointed review panel chaired by a judge from India, Mukul Mudgal.

That should be a formality in the weeks ahead.