The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would have been at home on the FIFA planet.
Anyone who has spent much time in world football’s governing body knows a few people who consider themselves ‘supermen’ and his doctrine of eternal return – the idea that time repeats itself over and over again – could have been developed anywhere in FIFA 72 . previous congresses.
But Nietzsche’s quote that “there are no facts, only interpretations” perfectly sums up what happened at the 73rd FIFA Congress in Kigali, Rwanda on Thursday.
The main task was to vote on who should lead FIFA for the next four years, but with no candidates to challenge the incumbent Gianni Infantino, it became a standing election. A resounding support, then, except for a few who stood up but did not 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, though, and it was Infantino’s third victory in the FIFA presidential election, albeit his first. in 2016 will no longer count toward the three-term limit he brought in shortly after that win because he was finishing someone else’s term. So his third season 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 on the campaign trail at the time trying to get African football confederations to vote for him.
His mission failed – Africa had already decided to fall behind its rivals, Bahrain’s royals, who still run Asian football – but the 52-year-old Swiss-Italian told Congress he was inspired to keep fighting by visiting Rwanda’s genocide memorial.
Some in the room sounded like he was comparing his refusal to surrender – which was not in doubt at the time – to Rwanda’s recovery from one of the worst examples of ethnic violence in history. For others, it was just an awkward anecdote.
When asked to clarify what he said at a post-congress media conference, Infantino angrily rejected the idea that he would ever draw a comparison between a horrific historical event and a chapter in his own life. This came as a surprise to those who heard him speak in Doha last year about how his experiences as the red-haired son of Italian immigrants in Switzerland meant he knows what it’s like to be racially abused or criminalised. to be gay
There were more examples of misinterpretations at the media conference.
Infantino began the session by telling the audience that because some journalists had been “nasty” to him by reporting allegations about his autocratic style, his tax affairs, the latest investigations into his secret meetings he held with the Swiss attorney general (who may be or former Qatari CIA agents may not have bugged him), his relationship with celebrity chef Salt Bae, and countless other misunderstandings, we all had to listen to another “Gianni Infantino monologue.”
In this 20-minute tirade, shorter than the hour he delivered on the eve of the World Cup in Qatar, he chided journalists for “giving space” to thugs who criticized him for “showing off”, urging us to be a little more factual. ” in our report and suggested that we don’t like him because he doesn’t talk to us very often.
When this reporter gave him his “Today I’m a Qatari” speech, the criticism was not because he obviously had red hair and freckles as a child, but because he told hundreds of reporters that their reporting on how Qatar had not been taking care. the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who flooded into the Gulf state were motivated by racism.
Infantino rejected this, saying that he only used the term to describe those who suggested that the predominantly Indian fans in Qatar who supported England and other countries were “acts”.
Again, this seemed like an interesting interpretation of his anti-Western colonialism tirade, especially since he spent several minutes in Doha telling us how hypocritical we all were for not acknowledging Qatar’s huge – but fragmented, controversial and possibly temporary – advances. in relation to migrant workers. This came as news to the dozens in the room who had spent years reporting on the views of real workers’ rights experts who repeatedly said Qatar had made progress, but much more needed to be done.
However, at this point, no one was quite sure where they stood or what was going on. Infantino shouted, the media swarmed, especially those who had traveled to Kigali from Scandinavia but were now ignored at the media conference because they could ask the president about taxes, criminal investigations and other examples of nastiness.
But Infantino wasn’t the only one spewing interpretations.
The second speaker of the congress was the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. He picked up where Infantino left off in Doha, telling the crowd to “leave bad politics out of sport”. By bad policy, he meant the “constant, hypocritical criticism” of Qatar’s failure to properly count how many migrant workers had died building World Cup infrastructure or properly compensate their families.
Kagame, who knows something about landslide victories in uncontested elections, then said that those trying to hold Qatar accountable were basically just racists, which is quite an accusation when those racists include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, a global organization. trade unions and the United Nations Special Rapporteur.
The good news is that FIFA, under pressure from the notorious colonialists, the Norwegian FA, has finally agreed to “undertake an assessment” of what Qatar did and did not do in terms of labor reforms, and is discussing how much can be expected. A humble organizer of sports competitions like FIFA when it comes to these big social issues.
This “assessment” is delivered by FIFA’s Subcommittee on Human Rights and Social Responsibility. Perhaps it can also try to correct the apparent paradox that Kigali is temporarily the “capital of the world” because FIFA had brought its annual meeting to the city with FIFA’s humble inability to speak the truth to its tournament hosts.
Perhaps it could then turn its attention to the difference between Qatar’s “best ever” World Cup and the “greatest” World Cup to be hosted by Canada, Mexico and the United States in 2026. No facts, just superlatives.
However, there was one undeniable fact in Kigali: FIFA runs there.
Originally budgeted for $6.4 billion (£5.3 billion) in revenue between 2019 and 2022, the “Qatar cycle” saw revenue of $7.5 billion, despite the impact of the pandemic. Estimated revenue for the 2023-26 season is $11 billion, and does not include the “couple of billions” Infantino expects to receive from the new 32-team World Cup in 2025.
As a result of all this commercial success, Infantino’s 211 constituents have all seen their annual grant increase sevenfold since 2016, with more to come.
“If the CEO said this to his shareholders, I think they would want to keep the CEO forever,” Infantino joked.
Or at least we think he was joking. When all other facts become matters of opinion, it can be hard to tell what day of the week it is on Planet FIFA, let alone whether four years could turn into 40 years.
(Top image: Rwandan Presidency / Handout / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)