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Fifa’s boss fights back

Fifa’s boss fights back

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A day before the Qatar World Cup began, Gianni Infantino came to the defence of the host nation. After his surprising monologue at a press conference it was clear football and politics would continue to collide under his leadership.

“The winner to organise the 2022 FIFA World Cup is Qatar.”

Ever since Fifa awarded the men’s football World Cup to Qatar in 2010, the tournament has been beset by controversy. 

There’s been a spotlight on Qatar following allegations of corruption in how the country won the bid, deaths of the migrant workers who helped build the country’s infrastructure, and the country’s attitude towards the LGBT community.

What should be a celebration of the beautiful game has turned ugly.

The tournament’s organising committee were hoping that all the pre-tournament controversy would settle down and fans around the world would start to focus solely on the football. 

But…what they didn’t factor in is Fifa’s president, Gianni Infantino…

“Today I have very strong feelings. Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker.” 

A day before the World Cup kicked off, Gianni Infantino launched into an extraordinary monologue at a press conference defending his organisation’s decision to hold the World Cup in Qatar.

This is a straight, able-bodied white man from Switzerland who earns £1.3m a year, saying that he feels like a gay, disabled, Arabic or African migrant worker.

And to compound things, this came just two weeks after Infantino wrote a letter to the 32 participating countries, telling them to keep football and politics separate. 

In it he said:

“We know football does not live in a vacuum and we are equally aware that there are many challenges and difficulties of a political nature all around the world. But please do not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists. At Fifa, we try to respect all opinions and beliefs, without handing out moral lessons to the rest of the world.”

His plea to keep politics and football separate has fallen on deaf ears, not least because he doesn’t follow his own advice.

But who is Gianni Infantino, and how did he become the most powerful person in world football?

“Sepp Blatter has finally said he’s sorry, but after being banned from football for 8 years by the sport’s World governing body FIFA, seems he’s mostly sorry for himself. In a combative press conference in Zurich, following the announcement of the ban by FIFA’s ethics committee, Mr Blatter said he was still President of the organisation, the committee had no right to relieve him of his duties.”

Channel 4 News

The history of Fifa, the world football governing body, is littered with scandal.

But the past decade has seen the organisation face a series of crises that eventually led to its former president, Sepp Blatter, being banned from all footballing activity for eight years.

Blatter had been president of the organisation since 1998, but in 2015 he was suspended over ethics breaches when he was found to have made a £1.3m “disloyal payment” to ex-Uefa boss Michel Platini. The payment was allegedly made to prevent Platini from challenging Sepp Blatter for the Fifa Presidency.

And so, with trust in FIFA at an all time low, Gianni Infantino was elected Fifa’s President in 2016. 

He had run on a ticket of cleaning up the organisation’s act and democratising the game further around the world by giving football associations a greater say.

“And many people who deserve that Fifa is highly respected, and we will restore the image of Fifa and the respect of Fifa, and everyone in the world will applaud us, and everyone in the world will applaud you for what we’ll do in Fifa.

But since his arrival, it doesn’t feel like much has changed. 

Before he became President of Fifa, he had risen the ranks of UEFA to become their Secretary General in October 2009. Alongside that, he became a member of Fifa’s Reform Committee charged with cleaning up the world football governing body.

But Infantino’s presidency hasn’t been the clean-up act it was supposed to be.

There has been no major reform of Fifa, despite promises to restore its image. Instead, Infantino’s focus has been on expanding the number of teams who play in the World Cup – a long-standing aim of his predecessor Sepp Blatter. 

If ever there was a moment to show that Fifa stands for fairness and openness, the Qatar World Cup was arguably it. 

Instead, it’s been mired by Fifa threatening to punish players who protest in support of LGBT rights, and by Infantino’s own bizarre diatribe.

Infantino ended his press conference saying: 

“You want to criticise someone? Come to me. Criticise me. Here I am. You can crucify me. I am here for that.

He may be crucified by fans and vilified by some football associations – but he’s here to stay. Last week, Infantino was guaranteed four more years in charge of football’s governing body after no candidate stepped up to challenge him in next year’s elections. 

It seems he still commands the support of the majority of the world’s football federations.

So you can be sure that between now and the next world cup, politics and football will continue to collide under his leadership.


This episode was written by Andrew Butler and mixed by Patricia Clarke.