FIFA president Gianni Infantino on Wednesday claimed FIFA’s proposal for the biennial World Cup could change the destiny of African football players, who are risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean sea seeking better opportunities.
In a speech at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) meeting held at Strasbourg, the man in charge of football’s global governing body said the movement of contemporary football is “in a direction where a few have everything and the vast majority have nothing”.
“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,” he said.
Apparently, Infantino made the statement on the same day Spanish authorities said at least 18 people died and more than 300 were rescued from several boats trying to reach the Canary Islands from North Africa.
FIFA and the Future of the Football project, led by former Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger, have faced serious rejections from European football since their proposal for organizing the men’s and women’s World cup every two years.
Although the big European clubs and football federations in both South America and Europe unanimously resisted this proposal, 54 African federations have backed this with one voice.
In November last year, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) has voted to support FIFA’s plans for a biennial World Cup at an Extraordinary General Assembly in Cairo. “CAF welcomes the FIFA Congress decision to conduct a feasibility study on hosting men’s and women’s FIFA World Cups every two years,” the CAF resolution read. “If the FIFA study concludes it is feasible, CAF will fully support hosting the men’s and women’s FIFA World Cup every two years.”
Infantino’s comments were criticized by many on social media.
European media director of Human Rights Watch, Andre Stroehlein, tweeted “My colleagues at Human Rights Watch interview refugees around the world pretty much every day. We write reports about the reasons – the abuses, the hardships – that forced them to leave their homes. They never mention the timing of World Cup tournaments.”
Tony Burnett, chief executive of Kick It Out, said “ FIFA is a multi-billion profit-making organization. They already have the funds to invest in creating and inspiring opportunities for disadvantaged people around the world. It is therefore completely unacceptable to suggest that a biennial World Cup, predominantly set up to drive further profits of FIFA, could be a solution for migrants who risk their lives, sometimes fleeing war-torn countries, to seek a better life.”
Football Supporters Europe’s executive director Ronan Evain tweeted “How low can Infantino go? Instrumentalizing death in the Mediterranean to sell his megalomaniac plan is beyond words.”
Later, Infantino sent a statement to AFP concerning his clarification of the comment.
“Given that certain remarks made by me before the Council of Europe earlier today appear to have been misinterpreted and taken out of context, I wish to clarify that… my more general message was that everyone in a decision-making position has a responsibility to help improve the situation of people around the world,” said Infantino.