Gianni Infantino: Ridiculous remarks, a criminal probe, and a billionaire’s life paid by FIFA

The Swiss-Italian said his plan for a biennial World Cup, which UEFA, CONMEBOL and the IOC oppose, would give “hope to Africans so that they don’t need to cross” the sea and risk their lives. He was criticized for his lack of sensitivity and tried to backtrack

Guardar

Nuevo

Gianni Infantino made ridiculous remarks at the PACE and tried to gain votes for his unviable project for world cups every two years offering money to the federations. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)
Gianni Infantino made ridiculous remarks at the PACE and tried to gain votes for his unviable project for world cups every two years offering money to the federations. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

Opposition against the biennial World Cup that has been peddled over and over by FIFA president Gianni Infantino keeps on growing. This week the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has joined UEFA’s president Aleksander Ceferin and CONMEBOL’s president Alejandro Dominguez, who have vehemently rejected the proposal. This comes after his ridiculous remarks at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) and his effort to gain votes for his unfeasible project for World Cups every two years, offering money to the federations in a questionable way. Infantino seems to be in the process of dividing FIFA.

Even though he canceled his trip to Beijing to participate in the 139th IOC Session, three members of the IOC slammed his plans during the meeting. More would have followed, but Thomas Bach, IOC President, requested people to stop.

Not only has Infantino’s controversial idea found mostly rejection among the world sport’s main actors —what kind of World Cup would it be if Europe and South America have already said they will not participate if the project is approved?—, but his recent intervention at Strasbourg, France, has sparked outrage. Infantino’s remarks showed a lack of sensitivity to the migrant crisis, which he used as an alleged reason to advocate for his biennial World Cup project.

Infantino’s remarks showed a lack of sensitivity to the migrant crisis, which he used as an alleged reason to advocate for his biennial World Cup project. (REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger)
Infantino’s remarks showed a lack of sensitivity to the migrant crisis, which he used as an alleged reason to advocate for his biennial World Cup project. (REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger)

Attempting some damage control, Infantino later insisted his comments had been “misinterpreted and taken out of context.” But harm to the image of international soccer had already been done. Infantino is bad news for soccer and for sports in general. How much longer will the National Federations tolerate him?

In spite of his backtracking, there was no misinterpretation. His words to the European lawmakers were quite clear. Infantino blamed soccer for being a sport played by those few “who have everything” instead of being more open to global inclusion. His biennial World Cup would be a way to solve the migrant crisis in Europe, he dared to say the very same day when 18 people were drowning in the Mediterranean Sea, and another 300 were being rescued.

“We need to find ways to include the entire world, to give hope to Africans so that they don’t need to cross the Mediterranean in order to find, maybe, a better life but more probably death in the sea,” Infantino addressed the PACE. “We need to give opportunities, to give dignity. Not by charity but by allowing the rest of the world to participate.”

From January to September 2021, according to Statista, an estimated 1,370 migrants died while crossing the Mediterranean Sea, similarly to the more than 1,400 migrants that officially drowned in 2020. But those figures are far from exact: the bodies recovered at the Mediterranean Sea —the deadliest migration route in the present, with over 5,000 dead in 2016— do not account for the hundreds of men, women and children who went missing while crossing.

Gianni Infantino travels in private airplanes: in this case, to Honduras.  (Photo Credit: Ronal Aceituno - El Heraldo)
Gianni Infantino travels in private airplanes: in this case, to Honduras. (Photo Credit: Ronal Aceituno - El Heraldo)

Mustapha Berraf, president of the National Olympic Committees of Africa (ANOCA), raised his voice at the IOC meeting in Beijing: a biennial World Cup would have “a heavy negative impact” on the continent, and soccer in general. “The plan would create immeasurable damage and will not help the development of sport in Africa.”

In addition to all this, Infantino faces serious legal issues and big enemies. How soon will sponsors start to walk away from FIFA because of his behavior?

Infantino is under investigation in Switzerland for “indications of criminal conduct” in his meetings with the former Swiss attorney general Michael Lauber, who was overseeing the probe into the soccer corruption scandal of 2015 that led to indictments against top leaders at FIFA and the ouster of most of its senior leadership, among them Sepp Blatter.

The fact that Infantino just moved to Qatar might be connected with these legal issues pressing him in Switzerland. It’s quite incredible to think that a man who claimed he would bring good governance and transparency to FIFA has literally fled, scared of the possible legal actions to come against him.

Sources say there is more coming. His salary might be worth millions of dollars; his expenses in high-end private jets, helicopters, luxury hotels and much more seem to border on the ridiculous. All of this is paid by the stakeholders. And it does not bode well for him when all of this is exposed in the investigation.

UEFA's president Aleksander Ceferin has vehemently rejected Infantino's proposal, and so has done CONMEBOL’s president Alejandro Dominguez. (EFE/EPA/Marco Betorello)
UEFA's president Aleksander Ceferin has vehemently rejected Infantino's proposal, and so has done CONMEBOL’s president Alejandro Dominguez. (EFE/EPA/Marco Betorello)

But the silence of the Ethics Committee has allowed Infantino to continue as FIFA president and to go forward with his push for a biennial World Cup. And also allowing him to spend without any control the money of the Institution.

Sources have also pointed out that the Ethics Committee could also be part of the investigation.

Neither the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) nor the South American Soccer Confederation (CONMEBOL) are on board. Both Ceferin and Dominguez have opposed the biennial World Cup, and have even threatened with a boycott.

“Without European and South American teams,” said Dominguez, “I have doubts that one can achieve these revenues they talk about.” Ceferin was adamant: “There is no room for interpretation or negotiation. It’s ‘No’ to selfish super leagues and ‘No’ to extravagant World Cup proposals.”

Infantino touched on a very sensitive issue —migration in the 21st century— which is completely foreign to his knowledge. Tony Burnett, the CEO of Kick It Out, an anti-racism group, said that it was “completely unacceptable” for Infantino to suggest that a soccer World Cup every two years “could be a solution for migrants who risk their lives, sometimes fleeing war torn countries, to seek a better life.”

After his unfortunate speech to PACE, Infantino tried to backtrack and “clarify” although to no avail: his remarks have been quite clear.

Let’s hope that a great sport like football finally finds a serious, humble leader that could govern with transparency and honesty in the best interest of the stakeholders and global sports.

Recent Articles