September 21 – On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, FIFA president Gianni Infantino met with Turkish president Recep Erdoğan.
The closed-door meeting was at the Turkevi Center near UN headquarters and neither the Turkish government nor FIFA provided further details about the talks. Infantino handed Erdoğan an official FIFA match ball and the Turkish head of state was seen heading the ball.
The timing of Infantino’s meeting with Erdoğan is unfortunate.
In a week that NGOs are increasing the pressure on FIFA and Qatar to come up with a compensation fund for migrant workers who have suffered human rights abuses in the World Cup host nation, the FIFA president meets a head of state whose human rights record at home is very controversial.
Turkey has been an EU candidate member since 1999, but in recent years under the leadership of Erdoğan the country has moved away from meeting EU requirements as the head of state has cracked down on civil society.
FIFA, seemingly, has fewer qualms about meeting autocrats. Infantino regularly meets with Mohamed Bin Salman, arguing that they are part of the football family and that football in the very nature of the game is inclusive.
The question is really how far the inclusivity goes. In 2019, Infantino received the Russian Order of Friendship from Vladimir Putin, the year after Russia staged the World Cup. While FIFA and UEFA have suspended the Russian football federation, it is unclear if the FIFA leader has returned the state decoration.
The Confederation of African Football (CAF) president Patrice Motsepe has also been to New York where he participated in an UN-led Giants of Africa sports panel in partnership alongside NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, Toronto Raptors President Masai Ujiri and Tobi Amusan.
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