Re-elected Infantino, Kagame and a day of misinterpretations on Planet FIFA

The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche would have been at home on Planet FIFA.

Anyone who has spent much time in the governing body of world football knows a few people who consider themselves “supermen” and his doctrine of eternal return – the idea that time repeats itself over and over – could have been developed on any of the FIFA’s 72 previous congresses.

But Nietzsche’s quote about “no facts, only interpretations” is the perfect summary of what happened Thursday at the 73rd FIFA Congress in Kigali, Rwanda.

The most important part of the matter was a vote to decide who should lead FIFA for the next four years, but with no candidates to oppose the incumbent Gianni Infantino, it turned out to be a standing ovation election. A resounding statement of support, except that a few 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 some: I love you all,” said Infantino. “Of course today, especially.”

But a win is a win, and it was Infantino’s third win in a FIFA presidential election, although the first in 2016 no longer counts towards the three-term limit he secured shortly after that win, as he completed someone else’s term. So his third term is actually his second and he can now continue until 2031.

Infantino opened the conference with an anecdote about his first visit to Rwanda in early 2016. He was on the campaign trail at the time, trying to convince African football federations to vote for him.

His mission was a failure – Africa had already decided to side with its rival, a Bahraini royal family that still runs Asian football – but the 52-year-old Swiss-Italian told the convention audience he was inspired to carry on. fight for the presidency by visiting the Rwandan Genocide Memorial.

Kagame, left, and Infantino (Photo: Rwanda Presidency / Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

To some in the room it sounded like he was comparing his refusal to give up – something that was never questioned at the time – to Rwanda’s recovery from one of the worst examples of communal violence in history. For others it was just a clumsy anecdote.

When asked to clarify what he said at the post-congress media conference, Infantino angrily rejected the idea that he would ever draw a comparison between a terrible historical event and a chapter in his own life. This came somewhat as a surprise to those in the room who heard him talk 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 criminalized for being gay are.

There were more examples of misinterpretations in the media conference.

Infantino opened the session by telling the audience that some journalists had been “mean” to him by reporting allegations about his autocratic style, his tax affairs, breaking news about the investigation of secret meetings he had with the Swiss Attorney General ( which may or may not have been overheard by former CIA operatives who worked for Qatar), his relationship with celebrity chef Salt Bae, and countless other misunderstandings, we should all listen to another “Gianni Infantino Monologue”.

In this 20-minute rant, shorter than the hour he delivered on the eve of the World Cup in Qatar, he berated reporters for giving “space” to scammers who criticized him “to show off”, urging us to “make a to be a bit more factual”. in our reporting and suggested we don’t like him because he doesn’t talk to us very often.

This journalist told him that his “Today I am Qatari” speech was criticized not for making a throwaway comment about having red hair and freckles, but for telling hundreds of journalists that their coverage of how Qatar had failed to reach the hundreds of thousands of the migrant workers flocking to the Gulf state was motivated by racism.

In response, he asked, “Why are you so mean?” and dismissed the idea, saying he was only using that term to describe those who suggested that the mainly Indian fans in Qatar who supported England and other countries were “phony”.

Again, this felt like an interesting interpretation of his diatribe against Western colonialism, especially as he spent several minutes in Doha telling us how hypocritical we all were for seeing the huge – but patchy, contested and possibly temporary – progress Qatar was making in relation with migrant workers. This came as news to the dozens in the room who had for years reported the views of real labor rights experts, who repeatedly said that while Qatar had made some progress, there was much more to do.

At this stage, however, no one really knew where they stood or what was going on. Infantino was furious, the media was boiling, especially those who had traveled to Kigali from Scandinavia, but were now ignored at the media conference because they could ask the president about tax investigations, criminal investigations and other examples of meanness.

But Infantino wasn’t alone in spewing interpretations.

The second speaker at the conference was the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame. He picked up where Infantino left off in Doha by telling the public to “leave bad politics out of the sport”. By bad politics, he meant the “ongoing, hypocritical criticism” of Qatar’s failure to correctly count how many migrant workers had died building World Cup infrastructure or to properly compensate their families.

Kagame, who knows a thing or two about landslide victories in unopposed elections, went on to say that those trying to hold Qatar accountable were in fact just racists, which is quite an accusation when those racists are Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, worldwide . trade unions and a United Nations Special Rapporteur.

The good news is that FIFA, under pressure from the notorious colonialists, the Norwegian FA, has finally agreed to an “evaluation” of what Qatar has and hasn’t done with regard to labor reforms, and to hold a debate on how much can be expect from a modest sports competition organizer like FIFA when it comes to these major social issues.

This “assessment” will be delivered by the FIFA Subcommittee on Human Rights and Social Responsibility. Perhaps it could also try to reconcile the apparent paradox that Kigali is temporarily “the capital of the world” because FIFA has brought its annual meeting to the city, with FIFA’s humble inability to speak the truth to the hosts of its tournaments.

Perhaps it could then turn its attention to the difference between Qatar’s “best ever” World Cup and the “biggest” World Cup that Canada, Mexico and the United States will host in 2026. No facts, just superlatives.

However, there was one indisputable fact in Kigali: FIFA rolls into it.

With an initial budget of $6.4bn (£5.3bn) between 2019 and 2022, sales for the “Qatar cycle” reached $7.5bn despite the impact of the pandemic. Estimated revenue for the 2023-26 cycle is $11 billion, and that doesn’t include the “couple of billions” Infantino expects to make from its new 32-team Club World Cup in 2025.

As a result of all this commercial success, Infantino’s 211 voters have increased their annual grants sevenfold since 2016, with many more to come.

“If a 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 every other fact becomes a matter of opinion, it can be difficult to tell what day of the week it is on Planet FIFA, let alone whether four years can still turn 40.

(Top photo: Rwanda Presidency / handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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