Infantino was speaking at the scandal-plagued Confederation of African Football's general assembly meeting in Cairo on the eve of the African Cup of Nations final. (Photo: AP)
Cairo: FIFA president Gianni Infantino hit back at Sepp Blatter's criticism of the world soccer body's cleanup operation in Africa as a modern-day form of "colonialism."
Infantino response on Thursday was: "I have to laugh about it." Blatter, the former head of FIFA who is serving a six-year ban from soccer, described the decision to appoint FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura as FIFA general delegate for Africa for six months as "a new aspect of colonialism" in a statement he provided to the BBC this week.
Blatter said it was also against FIFA rules because national soccer associations are members of FIFA, but continental bodies are not.
"I have to say I'm really puzzled by some of the comments," Infantino said, referring generally to a range of criticism of FIFA's decision to step in and oversee the reform of the Confederation of African Football.
Then, apparently responding directly to Blatter, his predecessor, Infantino said: "What does it mean, colonialization? I don't know. It's not part of my vocabulary. But I know what it means to team up. ... We all suffer when we see what is going on here (at CAF)."
Infantino was speaking at the scandal-plagued Confederation of African Football's general assembly meeting in Cairo on the eve of the African Cup of Nations final.
It's CAF's first major meeting since the announcement last month that Samoura will move to CAF for six months from August to oversee a forensic audit of the organization's finances and push through reforms of the body's badly failing administration. It's the first time FIFA has taken such a move with one of its continental confederations. CAF, with 56 member countries, is FIFA's largest confederation.
CAF president Ahmad, who is also one of Infantino's vice presidents at FIFA, is facing numerous allegations of wrongdoing amid the crisis. They include corruption, improper business dealings, and sexual harassment of staff members at the soccer body's offices. This week, he was also accused of cheating on expenses.
He has denied wrongdoing but conceded on Thursday that CAF had serious problems.
"We are lagging behind all (other) confederations in all aspects," Ahmad said. He said the general assembly meeting would be dedicated to reforming the entire administration.
Infantino attempted to present a more positive picture. He said CAF's current predicament wasn't as bad as the FIFA corruption scandal of 2015, which led to the downfall of some the most powerful men in world soccer, including Blatter, and brought Infantino to power.
"The situation at FIFA was a lot worse than the situation of CAF today and yet we turned the boat (around)," Infantino said. "We intend to do the same for Africa and for CAF."
Ahmad, who is a former politician from Madagascar, was surprisingly elected to head CAF two years ago, beating out the long-serving veteran of African soccer, Issa Hayatou of Cameroon. Ahmad campaigned on promises of stamping out corruption and modernizing CAF but two years later it's in crisis.
"We need to regain the trust of the people," Infantino said.