By Paul Nicholson
December 3 – FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, addressed the G20 summit of world leaders at the weekend as a self proclaimed “simple citizen of the World” and proceeded to expound the virtues of football’s unifying powers and how great it would be if the Qatar 2022 World Cup could be expanded to more countries in the region, inshallah.
But there was nothing ‘simple’ or humble about what was a clearly political message on the world’s biggest political stage to an audience that only has one nation from the Middle East a member – Saudi Arabia. A fact that would not have been lost on the football world. And it will take a little more to achieve Infantino’s vision than God’s will and his new-found (if somewhat obsequiously blundering) geo-political statesmanship.
Infantino’s speech would have been one of the very few warming moments for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman who is currently reviled in the court of international public opinion for his alleged role in ordering the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi but is at the very top of Infantino’s dinner guest list with his big chequebook for a radical revamp of the world football calendar. The world might not want the revamp but Infantino and his FIFA are gagging for the money.
Expounding the power of football to break down boundaries and unify people and cultures (well, it does cross boundaries but the rest might be debatable), he pointed out how all the World Cups since 2002 had proved to be a wider force for global good.
Congratulating President Trump, Presidente Peña Nieto and Prime Minister Trudeau, for their World Cup 2026 United Bid, he said: “Maybe, if football makes dreams come true, in 2022 we could also experience a World Cup in Qatar as well as, why not, some games in other countries of the Arabian Gulf. But this is another story, hopefully with a happy end. Inshallah!”
He then went on to outline five reasons why football can be the global partner “on building consensus for fair and sustainable development that promotes inclusion”.
It’s all about the money
Disturbingly top of that list for creating global good was money.
His words: “Firstly, because football means economic growth. Over the past decade, the football industry has grown twice as fast as the global economy in a time of economic crisis! With gross output of 200 billion USD and gross value added of 130 billion USD, the football economy is equivalent to a medium-large country. Perhaps one day we might also join the G20! Today, 70% of the global football economy is generated in Europe. So just imagine the incredible potential worldwide, if we take the right decisions. Coming back to one of the priorities of the G20, infrastructure development, we are also giving our small contribution. With the revenues from the World Cup, FIFA is able to invest nearly 600 million USD every year in new pitches and football facilities all around the world, including in many developing countries. For the benefit of our youth!” he crowed cleverly.
“Yes, Football means economic growth and contributes to infrastructure development.”
Infantino’s other four reasons, in case anyone is interested, are education, health, gender equality and integration. But really they are reasons 6 to 10 after money, money, money, money and money. And the Saudis have it, apparently. But like the Beatles said, money can’t buy you love. Inshallah.
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