Infantino re-elected, Kagame and a day of misinterpretations on Planet FIFA

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would have been at home on Planet FIFA.

Anyone who has spent much time around world football’s governing body will know a few people who consider themselves ‘Supermen’ and its doctrine of eternal return – the idea that time repeats itself again and again and again – could have been developed in any of FIFA’s 72 matches. previous congresses.

But Nietzsche’s quote that “there are no facts, only interpretations” is the perfect summary of what happened at the 73rd FIFA Congress in Kigali, Rwanda on Thursday.

The main affair was supposed to be a vote to decide who would lead FIFA for the next four years, but with no candidate to oppose incumbent Gianni Infantino it became an election by standing ovation. A resounding endorsement, then, except a few stood up but didn’t applaud.

“All those who love me, and I know there are so many, and those who hate me, I know there are a few: I love you all,” Infantino said. “Of course today, especially.”

A win is a win, however, and it was Infantino’s third victory in a FIFA presidential election, although the first in 2016 no longer counts against the three-term limit he introduced shortly after that triumph, as he was finishing someone else’s term. So his third term is actually his second, and he can now continue until 2031.

Infantino opened the congress by telling an anecdote about his first visit to Rwanda in early 2016. He was then on the campaign trail, trying to convince African football federations to vote for him.

His mission was a failure – Africa had already decided to side with his rival, a Bahraini royal who still rules Asian football – but the 52-year-old Swiss-Italian told the congress audience he was inspired to continue to fight for the presidency with a visit to the Rwandan Genocide Memorial.

Kagame, left, and Infantino (Photo: Rwandan Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

To some in the room, it seemed he was comparing his refusal to give up – something that was never questioned at the time – to Rwanda’s recovery from one of the country’s worst examples of ethnic violence. ‘history. For others, it was just a clumsy anecdote.

When asked to clarify what he said at the post-convention press conference, Infantino angrily dismissed the idea that he would ever draw a comparison between an appalling historical event and a chapter of his own. life. It came as a surprise to those in the room who heard him in Doha last year talk about how his experiences as the red-haired son of Italian immigrants in Switzerland meant he knew what it was like. to be racially abused or criminalized for being gay.

There were more examples of misinterpretations at the press conference.

Infantino started the session by telling the room that because some reporters had been ‘mean’ to him reporting allegations about his autocratic style, his tax affairs, the latest about the investigation into the secret meetings he held with the Swiss Attorney General (who may or may not have been bugged by ex-CIA agents working for Qatar), his relationship with celebrity chef Salt Bae, and countless other misunderstandings, we were all going to have to listen to another “monologue by Gianni Infantino”.

In that 20-minute tirade, shorter than the hour he spoke on the eve of the Qatar World Cup, he chastised reporters for “giving space” to crooks who accuse him of ” show up,” urged us to “get a little more factual.” in our reporting and suggested that we don’t like him because he doesn’t talk to us very often.

When this reporter told him that his ‘Today I am Qatari’ speech was not criticized because he made a flippant remark about having red hair and freckles as a child , but because he had told hundreds of journalists that their reporting on how Qatar had failed to deal with the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who had flocked to the Gulf state was driven by racism.

Infantino dismissed this, saying he only used the term to describe those who suggested the mainly Indian fans in Qatar who supported England and other countries were “wrong”.

Again, that sounded like an interesting take on his tirade against Western colonialism, especially since he spent several minutes in Doha telling us how hypocritical we were all for not admitting the huge progress – but unequal, contested and perhaps temporary – achieved by Qatar in relation to migrant workers. This was news to the dozens of people in the room who had spent years reporting the views of real workers’ rights experts who repeatedly said that Qatar had made progress but that there was still much to do.

At this point, however, no one really knew where they were or what was going on. Infantino was furious, the media was seething, especially those who had traveled to Kigali from Scandinavia but were now being ignored at the press conference as they could question the president on taxes, criminal investigations and other instances of malice.

But Infantino wasn’t the only one spouting interpretations.

The second speaker at the congress was the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. He picked up where Infantino left off in Doha, telling the public to ‘leave bad politics out of sport’. By bad policy, he meant the “constant and hypocritical criticism” of Qatar’s failure to properly count the number of migrant workers who died building World Cup infrastructure or adequately compensate their families.

Kagame, who knows a thing or two about landslide victories in unopposed elections, then went on to say that those who tried to hold Qatar to account were basically nothing but racists, which is quite the cases when these racists include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, global unions and a United Nations special rapporteur.

The good news is that FIFA, under pressure from the notorious colonialists of the Norwegian FA, finally agreed to “conduct an assessment” of what Qatar has and hasn’t done in terms of labor reforms, and to have a debate about what can be expected from a humble sports competition organizer like FIFA when it comes to these big social issues.

This “assessment” will be delivered by the FIFA Sub-Committee for Human Rights and Social Responsibility. Perhaps he can also try to reconcile the seeming paradox that Kigali is temporarily ‘the capital of the world’ because FIFA has held its annual fixture in the city, with FIFA’s humble inability to say the truth to the hosts of its tournaments.

Perhaps he could then turn his attention to the difference between Qatar’s ‘best’ World Cup and the ‘biggest’ World Cup that Canada, Mexico and the United States will stage in 2026. No facts , only superlatives.

There was, however, one indisputable fact in Kigali: FIFA was rolling in it.

Having originally forecast revenue of $6.4bn (£5.3bn) between 2019 and 2022, revenue for the ‘Qatar Round’ was $7.5bn, despite the impact of the pandemic. The revenue estimate for the 2023-26 cycle is $11 billion, and that doesn’t include the ‘few billions’ Infantino expects to make from its new 32-team Club World Cup in 2025 .

As a result of all this business success, Infantino’s 211 voters have all seen their annual grants increase sevenfold since 2016, with more to come.

“If a CEO said that to their shareholders, I think they would want to keep the CEO forever,” Infantino joked.

Or at least we think he was kidding. When any other fact becomes a matter of opinion, it can be hard to tell what day of the week it is on Planet FIFA, let alone whether four more years could become 40.

(Top photo: Rwandan Presidency/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Leave a Comment