FIFA president defends stopping Gareth Bale and others from wearing ‘OneLove’ armbands
FIFA President Gianni Infantino has defended the organisation’s stance on the ‘OneLove’ armband at the Qatar World Cup by suggesting football matches should be a time for everyone to “forget their problems”.
Seven European nations competing at the tournament – including Wales – planned to wear anti-discrimination armbands during matches but were dissuaded from doing so following the threat of sporting sanctions from FIFA.
England captain Gareth Bale was due to wear the armband only for the decision to be taken just hours before kick-off in their opening game against the USA that he should no longer do so.
The PA news agency said that they understood that the sanctions could have been harsher than Bale – and other skippers – simply being shown a yellow card for sporting the piece of kit and therefore it was deemed they should avoid such incidents.
Instead, FIFA brought forward its own armband campaign which had originally been scheduled to start in the latter stages of the tournament, with FIFA president Infantino calling for the sporting regulations to be upheld.
“It’s not about prohibiting or not prohibiting. It’s about respecting regulations, we have regulations which say on the field of play, you play football and that’s what we did,” he said.
“Everyone is free to express his views, his opinion, his beliefs, the way he believes, as long as it’s done in a respectful way.
“When it comes to the pitch, to the field of play, you need to respect football, you need to respect the field of play and these regulations are exactly there for this reason.
“This is nothing new, they are there for this reason to respect and to protect the 211 football teams (under the FIFA banner), not 211 heads of states, regimes, or what have you.”
There have been incidents of supporters being told they cannot access World Cup stadiums while wearing rainbow clothing, including Wales’ rainbow buckets hats being confiscated, despite FIFA insisting it has said that should not be the case.
The death of migrant workers, a poor record of human rights and the treatment of LGBTQ+ individuals in Qatar have all had a spotlight shone on them since the Gulf state was first awarded the World Cup in 2010.
Following the decision not to wear the ‘OneLove’ armband, Germany’s players covered their mouths ahead of their first game at the World Cup.
Infantino said: “It is 211 football teams and their fans who want to come and enjoy football and this is what we are here for and, honestly, I believe that we are defending values, we are defending human rights, we are defending the rights of everyone in FIFA, in the World Cup.
“But I also believe that those fans who come to the stadium – those 80,000, 70,000, 90,000 – and all those billions of fans who are watching the World Cup on TV, maybe we should think about that and I say this candidly really to everyone, everyone has their own problems.
“They just want to spend 90 minutes or now 100 minutes or 105 minutes or whatever without having to think about anything else than just enjoying a little moment of pleasure and joy or at least emotion.
“That’s what we have to do. We have to give to all these people a moment of time in their life where they can forget about their own problems and enjoy football.
“Between and after competitions, during competitions outside of the match in the field of play, well, everyone can express his views and opinions the way he wants. But let’s give this moment of joy to those who want to enjoy the game.”
Gianni Infantino also called Qatar 2022 “the best World Cup ever” as the FIFA president sidestepped the subject of compensating migrant workers.
The curtain comes down on the first ever winter edition of the competition on Sunday as Lionel Messi looks to inspire Argentina to victory against reigning champions France.
Qatar was controversially awarded the World Cup in 2010 and Infantino says the 22nd staging was the best yet – just as he said in Russia four and a half years ago.
“The first item I want to highlight and stress of course is the praise – the unanimous praise – of the FIFA Council for this World Cup, for the unique cohesive power that this World Cup has shown,” the FIFA president said.
“The thanks to everyone who was involved, to, of course, Qatar, all the volunteers who work, all of your, everyone who has contributed to make this World Cup the best World Cup ever.”
Infantino went onto reel off details about attendances and praise the football but was less forthcoming when asked more difficult questions in his first press conference since the tournament kicked off.
That appearance on November 19 saw the FIFA president made headlines with a rambling hour-long monologue in which he said “today I feel gay” and “today I feel (like) a migrant worker”.
Infantino also took aim at European critics during an impassioned defence of Qatar’s progress on migrant worker rights.
A report by the Guardian last year said 6,500 migrant workers had died in the Gulf state since the award of the World Cup – something that had been “categorically” denied by authorities.
Hassan Al-Thawadi, secretary general of the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, recently said while there had been three work-related deaths in construction directly for the tournament and 37 non work-related deaths, many more died in infrastructure projects.
Al-Thawadi put the estimate at “between 400 and 500” – a figure put to Infantino in FIFA’s end of World Cup press conference in Doha.
“Every loss of life is a tragedy and whatever we could do in order to change the legislation to protect the health of the workers, to protect the situation of the workers, we did it and it happened,” he said.
“Whatever we can still do for the future, we are doing it. We continue to work on it.
“We have had several discussions. We are very close to agreeing, this will happen in January certainly, a memorandum of understanding with the International Labour Organisation because we want to bring this experience into the future and make sure that we can help.
“We can leverage the World Cup and the spotlight which is on the World Cup, and on football more generally to make lives of people and their family a bit better.”
Infantino was less forthcoming when asked whether estimated 11million dollars (£9million) revenue in the 2023-2026 cycle he so proudly announced may go towards compensating workers.
“You should know that FIFA shares everything from its wealth,” the Italian said.
“All the revenues of FIFA are being redistributed and reinvested, mainly in the game and also in some other activities. It’s sufficient to look into our accounts and you will see that immediately.
“When it comes to the Legacy Fund, I’ve been speaking about that as well and we have published some information about that before this World Cup and more will follow after this World Cup.”
FIFA said last month that the Legacy Fund will “set aside funding that will be dedicated to establishing a labour excellence hub in partnership with the International Labour Organisation”.
There was no specific reference to the money being used to compensate migrant workers, with Human Rights Watch saying on Friday that there is “no commitment from FIFA or Qatari authorities to remedy abuses”.
Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch, said: “FIFA brags that this is the most successful World Cup ever, but there is no successful tournament when so many migrant workers have died utterly preventable deaths – including two workers who died during the World Cup itself.
“The only way to ensure a better legacy would be to finally come through with a genuine remedy for the abuses the migrant workers who built and delivered this World Cup have suffered.”
Club World Cup
Meanwhile, Gianni Infantino confirmed the introduction of a new quadrennial men’s Club World Cup that will kick off in 2025 and feature 32 top teams from across the globe.
The FIFA Council met in Qatar on Friday to discuss a variety of matters, including international match calendars and competitions for men’s and women’s football.
The launch of an expanded 32-team Club World Cup in June 2025 was among the most eye-catching decisions, having cancelled the original 24-team tournament planned for 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“There will be a Club World Cup with 32 teams to be played every four years,” FIFA chief Infantino said. “The first edition will take place in 2025 in the summer.
“During that slot where in the past we used to have the Confederations Cup and it will be slightly longer because obviously there are 32 teams.
“But they will be the best teams in the world. They will be invited to participate.
“But all of the details will be developed in due course, and we’ll decide where it will take place as well over the next few weeks or months in consultation with all of the stakeholders.
“FIFA Council has taken the decision now as a matter of principle to hold that Club World Cup.
“But don’t forget we were the only football organisation in the world, I think anyway, at the international level not to have organised the competition during the pandemic.
“Everyone else postponed their competitions, then shorten them and played them and we had a Club World Cup planned in 2020 with 24 teams. That was cancelled. It wasn’t replaced or postponed.
“We did that because we wanted to allow for the Copa America, the Euros and we wanted to protect the health and wellbeing of players and not overburden the calendar.”
The Club World Cup announcement came the day after a key legal opinion was published saying UEFA and FIFA’s right to block new competitions like the European Super League is compatible with EU law.
The Premier League has yet to see any formal proposals from FIFA about the Club World Cup in 2025, nor the following year’s expanded World Cup, the PA news agency understands.
The English top flight is expecting there to be meaningful agreements reached with leagues before anything is signed-off, with player welfare and the domestic league structure key considerations.
The FIFA Council also endorsed the creation of a new women’s Club World Cup among a variety of other decisions taken in Doha, including the introduction of a FIFA World Series friendly tournament.
“What we have seen in this particular World Cup is the importance of having matches between national teams of different continents happening more regularly, more often,” Infantino said.
“The idea there and the principle that was agreed – again details to be elaborated – is to use the March windows, the 10 days in March, in the even years, so the World Cup years and Copa America or Euro years, to organise friendly tournaments between four teams of four different confederations.
“That is so everyone can gain this experience of playing with each other under, of course, the umbrella of FIFA, so FIFA World Series type of events to allow more matches between teams of different confederations.”
In regards to the men’s 2023-2026 international calendar, the FIFA Council also decided that the September and October windows will be merged into one four-match window at the end of September into early October.
FIFA announced that the hosts of the 2030 World Cup will be decided in 2024, with bid regulations to be published early next year.
The Women’s World Cup hosts for 2027 and 2031 will be decided in 2024 and 2025, respectively.
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