Saturday, July 13, 2024

Re-elected FIFA President Gianni Infantino is pushing for equal pay at the World Cup


Gianni Infantino, a controversial figure in world soccer, secured a new term Thursday as president of FIFA, the sport’s global governing body, after an election in which he was the only candidate.

Infantino, 52, has been crowned for another four years by acclamation, with representatives from all but a few of FIFA’s national federations leading applause at FIFA’s annual meeting, held this year in Kigali, the Rwandan capital.

But perhaps the biggest revelation of the day concerned women’s football. Upon his re-election, Infantino announced that FIFA would increase prize money for this year’s Women’s World Cup to $110 million and give millions more to teams involved in preparation funding, pledging to balance prize money with the men’s event by the time the next tournaments are played. Infantino said the increase was 10 times more than when the tournament was held in 2015 and three times more than the previous edition in 2019.

After emerging from relative obscurity, Infantino became football’s captain in 2016 after a massive corruption scandal plunged FIFA into perhaps the biggest crisis in its history.

FIFA rules drawn up by a group that included Infantino limit presidents to three four-year terms, but on the eve of last year’s World Cup final he said a review “made it clear” his first three years in charge did not count, allowing him to run FIFA until 2031.

Infantino took office after his predecessor, Sepp Blatter, was forced to step down just one year into his four-year term.

After his re-election was confirmed, Infantino seemed to realize that he was not universally popular. He said: “Those who love me, I know there are many, and those who hate me, I know there are few.” “I love you all.”

Later in a press conference he accused the media of being “mean” towards him.

While Infantino’s tenure in office has helped stabilize the governing body, his tenure has also been marked by intriguing public statements and bruising battles with some of football’s biggest stakeholders, including clubs, leagues and unions.

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He has also been at the center of a power struggle with UEFA, UEFA, where he was the top manager before his elevation to FIFA President.

FIFA has been in almost constant conflict with UEFA since 2018, when Infantino tried to push through a $25 billion sale of new events, including an expansion of the Club World Cup that was seen as a rival to the hugely popular Champions League.

Since then, there have been other skirmishes as well, notably when Infantino tried to push a proposal to turn the quadrennial World Cup into a biennial event. Infantino and UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin rarely speak.

But this week, among the delegates to a FIFA rally in Kigali, Infantino came out on top in his racism. Many of the member nations of the Governing Body are relatively small or medium-sized nations that depend heavily on FIFA’s largesse for a significant portion of their income.

Infantino also has a reputation for showcasing his relationships with politicians – including the likes of Donald J. Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. In Kigali, he was joined at the conference by Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame.

In his opening remarks on Thursday, Infantino recalled how he traveled to Rwanda to lobby African officials during his first campaign to become FIFA president eight years ago. After being told he could not count on their support, he said he was about to withdraw.

But he said a visit to a memorial to the victims of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 “inspired” him to stay in the race, noting how well the country has risen in the intervening years. He later denied making the comparison, stating that his words had subsequently been misinterpreted.

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Infantino stirred controversy on the eve of the World Cup in Qatar last year with an extraordinary speech in which he criticized Western critics for the decision to hold the tournament in the Middle East for the first time. In Kigali, he found an ally in Kagame, who used his rhetoric to support Infantino, making similar references to “constant hypocritical criticism”.

“Instead of asking why he’s being held there, first ask ‘Why not?'” Kagame said. “Unless we’re talking about some kind of entitlement that only some of us from this block deserve, it’s a matter of keeping some people where they are, but that kind of attitude should have been left farther back in history by now.”

Critics of the Qatar World Cup had highlighted the deaths and mistreatment of workers assigned to major construction projects built for the tournament, including several stadiums. Others drew attention to the country’s broader human rights record. Infantino was unimpressed, describing the tournament as The best ever.”

The FIFA Congress in Kigali presented a microcosm of Infantino’s presidency. He was welcomed by local politicians and football executives, but he was once again criticized from far and wide.

This week’s announcement that the 2026 World Cup in North America, the first tournament to feature 48 teams and the first expansion of the event since 1998, would be extended further by adding 24 more matches than planned, was met with outrage from Groups representing leagues around the world.

They offered what has become a familiar rebuke to FIFA Infantino: for the board to announce major changes without consulting the groups involved.

But his announcement of plans to boost women’s football will certainly embolden supporters of the game, who have long pressed FIFA for equal pay and treatment of male and female players in their respective tournaments.

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In addition to the increased prize money, players in this year’s 32-team World Cup will be given the same conditions as male players in Qatar, which include room for each player and each delegation allowed to travel with up to 50 members. Infantino said there is likely to be a cap on the amount of prize money that team members can receive, with a significant amount expected to go towards football development.

However, within four years, the wages would need to more than double to the $440 million that was paid to the teams at the World Cup in Qatar. That could be achieved, Infantino said, if broadcasters dig into their pockets to buy the rights to women’s football, saying Fifa was paid less than 100 times the amount it did for the men’s World Cup even though the appeal of women’s tournaments has grown exponentially in recent years.

Earlier, delegates were asked to show their support for Infantino, and the FIFA president made another speech outlining the organization’s achievements and the ways it has successfully organized the World Cup and planned new ones.

He also reminded officials that FIFA had budgeted for record revenues of $11 billion over the four years to 2026, a figure he said would “increase by a few billion more”.

At the time of the vote, Infantino was supported by most of the room, including delegates from his harshest critics, such as the unionists of the Netherlands and England.

But the Norwegian delegation followed through on a promise not to get up to cheers, led by Lise Klavennis, saying on the eve of the election that Infantino had “failed to get the conversation going” about promised reforms.

Inmaculada Fuertes
Inmaculada Fuertes

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