The crassest leader in global sport

Global sport’s most blatant leader was back at it last week, drawing a comparison between Rwanda’s recovery from genocide and his own struggles to be elected Fifa president for the first time. It was again one of those Gianni Infantino car crash moments you could see from a mile away, from the moment he explained how his 2016 campaign seemed to have stalled, before a visit to the Kigali Genocide Memorial gave him encouragement to keep fighting . But he drove on, pushing harder on the accelerator, clueless as ever.

“And I said, ‘Who am I to give up?'” Infantino told Fifa delegates, who had just unopposed him for another four-year term. “What this country suffered and how this country got back on its feet is inspirational to the whole world dear President… I kept fighting and a few months later I was elected Fifa President.”

How we all made faces. However, it would be a mistake to see Infantino as just a punch line: someone to roll your eyes at when he says, “I feel Qatari, I feel gay, I feel disabled,” or claims that one Biennial world cup stopping Africa could prevent migrants from ‘death at sea’ The stark reality is that his actions are far more dangerous than his words or the lack of a filter.

What did American civil rights activist Maya Angelou once say? When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time. In all the years of snuggling up to Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Salman, Infantino showed us.

Maybe he learned something from Russia’s rulers. A day before the World Cup final in Qatar, Infantino announced that it had been “clarified” to the Fifa Council that his first term, 2016-2019, would not count towards the 12-year limit dictated by Fifa reforms will, and so it could last until 2031.

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Infantino’s friendship with Putin may have cooled, but others have stepped in. The “dear President” Infantino meant in Rwanda? That would be Paul Kagame, who received 98.79 percent of the vote in 2017. The only surprise was that it wasn’t even more, as Human Rights Watch noted that it happened “in a context where Rwandans who have dared to speak out or challenge the status quo have been arrested, forcibly disappeared or killed, independent media silenced, and intimidation has silenced groups campaigning for civil rights or freedom of expression.”

Speak to senior global esports insiders, and their criticisms of Infantino are remarkably similar: He doesn’t listen or seek consensus, and he makes everything of himself, his power, and his legacy. As Miguel Maduro, former head of Fifa’s leadership, put it: “The culture hasn’t changed. Look at the institution from the outside and what do you see? Voting is almost always unanimous. Incumbents are always re-elected and almost never challenged. Presidents extending existing term limits.”

The consequences are painfully clear. There were few calls for a bloated 48-team World Cup crammed with 16 extra teams and 40 more games. In truth, it’s the footballing equivalent of a poultry farmer infusing raw chicken with brine and additives. Sure it looks bigger. But give it a try. But the move rewarded Infantino’s base in Africa and Asia, who will have far more countries in the tournament next time.

Infantino has also approved an expanded Club World Cup to be played every four years from June 2025 and has refused to consult the top leagues, including the Premier League, who all oppose it. A more enlightened president would certainly try to find ways to lessen the burden on top players rather than flogging them.

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The only small grace is that things could have been worse. Infantino’s widely ridiculed biennial World Cup idea seems to have taken a back seat. Many also suspect that Infantino not only knew about the European Super League, but was privately behind it until it began to disband.

More madness could await us. Infantino appears keen on Saudi Arabia hosting the 2030 World Cup, although that prospect seems less likely now that Spain and Portugal have included Morocco in their bid.

To be fair to Fifa, many of their mistakes apply to other sports federations as well. A lack of proper checks and balances, open debate, or scrutiny by the public or press is always a recipe for bad things to happen.

Infantino can also point out that Fifa’s coffers swelled by $4 billion (£3.3 billion) last year, while this year’s Women’s World Cup will see a welcome 300 per cent increase in prize money. However, he clenched his teeth and conceded defeat to plans to use Visit Saudi as the main sponsor of the tournament after players and organizers pushed back.

“FIFA is an organization of 211 countries,” he said. “For us, they are all the same. It wouldn’t be a bad thing for us to have sponsors from Saudi Arabia, China, the United States of America, Brazil or India.”

Of course, you could rightly point out that the British government is also courting Saudi Arabia. And that trying to send asylum seekers to Rwanda is far worse than Fifa could imagine. But at least in the UK, general elections are coming up. things can change Another eight years of the Infantino project are waiting with Fifa. Good night and good luck. – Guardian

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