Blatter pays tribute to 1st FIFA election rival

PARIS (AP) — The Latest from the FIFA meetings ahead of the Women’s World Cup (all times local):

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11 a.m.

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter has paid tribute to his first election opponent, the late Lennart Johansson.

Johansson died on Tuesday at 89.

Blatter beat Johansson, then the president of European soccer body UEFA, in a 1998 vote in Paris to begin a 17-year stint leading FIFA.

Blatter says he is “very sad” at the loss of “a great and heavyweight man in football,” adding “we were allies, opponents, and rivals but in all situations there was a lot of respect and fair play.”

Johansson led a failed attempt by FIFA executive committee members to oust Blatter in 2002 before his re-election.

Blatter says “this is not only a big loss for me, but for Sweden, Europe and the whole football world.”

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10:50 a.m.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino says fans will see “an explosion of women’s football” when the World Cup opens on Friday.

Infantino has told the leaders of FIFA’s 211 national federations that “it’s your job to organize women’s football.”

Those members will re-elect Infantino by acclamation on Wednesday for a fresh four-year term.

FIFA has increased the representation of women in the president’s first three years in charge. Infantino hired FIFA’s first female secretary general, Fatma Samoura of Senegal.

Infantino says women now hold one in five of FIFA’s committee seats.

He says “only 20%. Before it was 4%, sorry. We will do better.”

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10:20 a.m.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino says he has led the soccer body “from being toxic, almost criminal, to being what it should be — an organization that develops football.”

Hours ahead of his unopposed re-election, Infantino told 211 member federations that today “nobody talks about crisis.”

The Swiss lawyer was elected in February 2016 in fallout from American and Swiss federal investigation of corruption involving international soccer officials.

Infantino says FIFA is now “synonymous with credibility, trust, integrity, equality, human rights.”

He won applause when saying FIFA’s reserves rose from $1 billion to $2.75 billion on his watch.

Infantino says “we are not spending it in some dodgy deals,” nor is it possible to make “hidden payments or do something unethical with our money flows.”

He says “there is no more space for corruption at FIFA. Never again.”

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9:40 a.m.

One day after French President Emmanuel Macron upset UEFA’s leader, France’s most senior soccer official has tried to smooth relations.

French soccer federation president Noël Le Graët says “UEFA can count on France to be disciplined in the best way possible.”

Le Graët was giving a welcome address to FIFA’s 211 member nations as their host federation for the Women’s World Cup, which opens Friday.

At an official reception on Tuesday, Macron angered UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin by criticizing proposed reforms of the Champions League which would favor rich clubs.

Ceferin later told The Associated Press it was “clear interference of politics in sports.”

Le Graët says he’s “delighted to work alongside” Ceferin, and that while France’s voice should be heard in soccer debate “there shouldn’t be interference from anybody else.”

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