Very strong. Gianni Infantino is definitely very strong. The FIFA president took advantage of the annual congress of the international football body, on Thursday 31 March in Doha, to announce his candidacy for a third term. And to defuse the bomb that could have exploded in his face.
The Italian-Swiss leader took the lead in declaring himself a candidate for re-election, which is scheduled for the elective congress in early 2023. “I will run for re-election,” he announced to delegates from FIFA’s 211 member federations. The announcement drew applause from the audience.
At this stage of the race, Gianni Infantino is the only candidate. Barring an earthquake in the football world, he should remain so. First elected in 2016, in the midst of a corruption scandal after the Sepp Blatter years, the 52-year-old former lawyer was re-elected unopposed in 2019.
Since then, the FIFA president has shaken up the football world by pulling out of his hat last year a project that looks like a revolution: a World Cup every two years. A bomb, no less.
At UEFA, the Slovenian president Aleksander Ceferin fell off his chair. In South America, Conmebol expressed the same mistrust of a project that would threaten some major tournaments on the calendar, including the Euro and even the Copa America.
The same hostility was expressed by the Olympic movement, where the IOC spoke on behalf of everyone, denouncing a FIFA initiative that would compete directly with the Summer Games from 2028.
According to several allegedly independent reports, a World Cup every even-numbered year would swell the coffers of world football by the sum of 4.4 billion dollars. Not bad.
But Gianni Infantino, who is a clever man, assured us on the very day he announced his new candidacy, Thursday 31 March, that the project of a World Cup every other year was not really a project. At most, it was an idea.
“Let’s get the process clear. The last FIFA Congress asked the FIFA administration for a vote, and 88 per cent voted in favour, to study the feasibility of that and some other projects. The FIFA administration, under the leadership of Arsene Wenger, did that. We studied the feasibility. But FIFA did not propose anything. FIFA came to the conclusion that it was feasible, but would it have some repercussions and impacts.”
So the project prepared by Arsène Wenger has been forgotten? For the time being, certainly. FIFA should keep it warm for at least a year, until its president is re-elected.
For the future, nothing is certain. Gianni Infantino has explained that a phase of consultation and discussion will now begin. The Italian-Swiss leader announced that it will be marked by a search for compromise, listening to all sides, including the leagues, clubs and players. “We will try to have a debate and a discussion to find what is best for everyone. Because everyone must benefit, Gianni Infantino insisted to the congress. Positive, negative or neutral, every feedback is what is important in this discussion, and I am proud that national team football is back on the agenda.”
Gianni Infantino was also able to roll his eyes at the announcement of FIFA’s turnover. It is expected to reach or exceed the symbolic $7 billion (€6.3 billion) mark for the period 2019-2022. Despite the effects of the pandemic, this is a record result, well above expectations (6.44 billion dollars).
With such a balance sheet, a lacklustre opposition and a sharp political sense, Gianni Infantino can wait for the next election without fearing for the quietude of his nights.