By Samindra Kunti
September 18 – FIFA supremo Gianni Infantino made a flying visit to the US for the signing of a diplomatic pact between Israel and both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in Washington DC, and discussed 2026 World Cup plans with Donald Trump, FIFA said on Thursday.
It is the third time Infantino has visited the White House and is a visit made during what is a spike in coronavirus cases worldwide and while he remains under criminal investigation at home in Switzerland. That investigation would have meant he would have likely required a special visa dispensation to enter the US.
“President Infantino thanked President Trump for his great commitment to the success of the FIFA World Cup 2026 and his engagement in a bright future for soccer in the US,” said the statement. Discussion topics included the establishment of a FIFA headquarters for the 2026 tournament and a review of preparations, said FIFA.
Infantino also met with US Attorney General William Barr. He personally thank the US authorities “for their work in the fight against corruption in football”, in a meeting that seemed more designed to normalise Infantino’s tendency to meet prosecutors who investigate corruption in the game.
In Switzerland, Infantino is under investigation following secret meetings with federal prosecutor Michael Lauber, who has stepped down from his position. The FIFA boss has always denied any wrongdoing and brushed off the allegations as absurd.
“I have had similar meetings in Switzerland, and FIFA’s lawyers are also in regular contact with prosecutors and law enforcement agencies wherever and whenever needed,” Infantino said in the FIFA statement. The difference with those meetings is that there were three of them, they were held secretly and there has been no attempt to disclose what was discussed.
“In this way, I am fully convinced that the credibility and reputation of FIFA is being restored at the highest level,” he said.
In 2015, dozens of football officials were indicted in the United States in the FIFAGate scandal, the biggest corruption case in the history of the game. Some administrators have been jailed since and Sepp Blatter ultimately resigned from his position at the top of the game, while UEFA president Michel Platini was suspended (for a separate offence) which ultimately opened the path for Infantino’s meteoric rise to the FIFA presidency.
After FIFA awarded the World Cup hosting rights to the US, Mexico and Canada at the FIFA Congress in Moscow, Infantino took the opportunity to visit the White House in August 2018 and again in September 2019. Trump has rapidly become Infantino’s favourite politician. In January, the pair lunched together at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
The US president will stand for re-election in November. Last year, Infantino sealed his re-election by acclamation at the FIFA Congress in Paris. Today he hosts the FIFA Congress which will be staged online due to the coronavirus pandemic. The world federation said its president has been exempted from quarantine by local health authorities after returning to Zurich from the US.
Contact the writer of this story, Samindra Kunti, at moc.l1603328736labto1603328736ofdlr1603328736owedi1603328736sni@o1603328736fni1603328736