FIFA president Gianni Infantino ignited a firestorm on Wednesday when he claimed that a biennial World Cup would help solve the African migrant crisis.
Infantino was trying to sell European lawmakers on the benefits of a biennial World Cup in an address to the Council of Europe. While some believe that a biennial World Cup would be nothing more than a way for a multi-billion dollar organization to make even more money, Infantino He believes that having a World Cup every two years would give countries outside of Europe more opportunities in soccer — but he took it even farther than that. Infantino said soccer can bring African countries "hope" so people there don't need to migrate and risk "death in the sea."
“If we think about rest of world and the vast majority of Europe, then we have to think about what football brings. Football is about opportunity, about hope, about the national teams. We cannot say to the rest of world give us your money, but watch us on TV. We need to include them.
“We need to find ways to include the whole world to give hope to Africans so that they don’t need to cross the Mediterranean in order to find maybe a better life but, more probably, death in the sea."
Infantino's comments were not taken well. Tony Burnett, the chief executive of Kick It Out, a soccer equality and inclusion organization, condemned them immediately.
“FIFA is a multibillion profit-making organization," Burnett said via Sky Sports. "They already have the funds to invest in creating and inspiring opportunity for disadvantaged people around the world. It is therefore completely unacceptable to suggest that a biennial World Cup, predominantly set up to drive further profits for FIFA, could be a solution for migrants who risk their lives, sometimes fleeing war-torn countries, to seek a better life.”
Infantino: Comments were taken out of context
Later on Wednesday, after seeing what a mess his comments had caused, Infantino attempted to fix it. The easiest way to do that would be to apologize for saying that a biennial World Cup could fix the African migrant crisis, but Infantino decided not to go in that direction. Instead, he decided to walk back his comments and claim that they'd been taken out of context.
“Given that certain remarks made by me before the Council of Europe earlier today appear to have been misinterpreted and taken out of context, I wish to clarify that, in my speech, my more general message was that everyone in a decision-making position has a responsibility to help improve the situation of people around the world," Infantino said in a statement posted to Twitter. "If there are more opportunities available, including in Africa, but certainly not limited to that continent, this should allow people to take these opportunities in their own countries. This was a general comment, which was not directly related to the possibility of playing a FIFA World Cup every two years."
Infantino is essentially saying that FIFA could create more jobs in certain countries in Africa, which would in turn stop people from leaving and migrating to Europe. He claimed that it was just a "general comment" and not actually about a biennial World Cup. However, he did say it during an address about his "Future of Football" strategy, which has singularly focused on having a biennial World Cup.