On January 23, 2015, Sepp Blatter probably felt like his wallet had been stolen. The FIFA president has just learned that three of the organisation’s major sponsors, Castrol, Continental Tires and Johnson & Johnson, who have supported the federation since the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups respectively, will not be there. adventure in 2018 and 2022. This is enough to accentuate the flight of capital that FIFA has to face, when the latter had already lost the financial support of Sony and Emirates during 2014. The organization, which is awash in suspicions relating to the process shady allocation of the Worlds in Russia and Qatar, no longer exactly popular on the markets. Six months later, the FIFA corruption scandal – which will go so far as to bring down Blatter – will complete the blackening of the image of the international federation. After his accession to the presidency in February 2016, Infantino therefore found himself at the head of an organization weakened financially, in the media and politically.
Nevertheless, all crises are vectors of opportunity. At the time, FIFA seemed more open to change, according to Miguel Maduro, chairman of the governance committee of the international federation from July 2016 to May 2017. “The likelihood that FIFA will reform itself internally is extremely lowpoints to the latter. Nevertheless, I thought it could have happened in 2015-2016, because FIFA’s reputation was at an all-time low. She was paying him heavily financially and needed to rebuild her image. I felt that this pressure exerted by her sponsors could push her to change. » Finally, FIFA and its capo will have skillfully circumvented the problem, rather than trying to solve it. On June 14, 2018, Infantino took his clicks and slaps to pay a courtesy visit to Xi Jinping. Thanks are in order, while the contribution of Chinese companies has generously repaired the ship abandoned by the historical partners of the federation. From March 2016, the multinational Wanda Group has indeed become a sponsor of the federation for the next four editions of the World Cup. It will soon be followed by smartphone maker Vivo, home appliance company Hisense and finally Chinese dairy leader Mengniu. “China wants the World Cup at all costs in 2030 or 2034, even if it means associating some of its companies with the controversial image of FIFAexplains Simon Chadwick, professor of sports economics at the University of Salford and specialist in Chinese football. The objective is for FIFA to be in a situation of dependence vis-à-vis Chinese companies. » Enough to sweep away Maduro’s hopes of change: “FIFA has not had to question itself structurally, because it has been able to acquire new sponsors from other countries… These new entrants are less concerned with integrity issues than the old ones. , if you want my opinion. »
Freed from this financial pressure, Infantino can tackle another major issue of his presidency: the Forward initiative. This program, a flagship measure of the Italian, should make it possible to control and condition FIFA’s payments to the national federations under its supervision. The idea? Be sure that the federation’s money finances football and only football. A long and laborious process: in 2016 and 2017, of the 317 million dollars that FIFA was to pay, only 70 were released. Distraught, Infantino himself described Forward as “absolute bankruptcy” in an email sent in mid-July 2017 to FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura, and unveiled by Mediapart. The money is frozen, some federations are getting impatient, and the big boss of FIFA no longer has time to wait: he must satisfy those who are likely to confirm him in his position, in the next elections of the federation. . From autumn 2017, the development department then transfers the sums concerned to the federations, without knowing how the money will be used. “The distribution of these millions is FIFA’s greatest weakness. Nobody can know if large sums are not diverted to criminal activities” , confided to Mediapart a former FIFA. Enough to establish the popularity of Infantino, who will not find anyone bold enough to oppose him in June 2019, during the race for the supreme mandate of the federation.
Million dollars Gianni
At the same time, Infantino can tackle what many describe as his real priority mission, much more than combating the problems of corruption, embezzlement and governance of the organization: to rain even more greenbacks on FIFA. and the federations affiliated to it. On March 15, 2018, the New York Times reveals the offer made to Infantino by a conglomerate of companies: private companies would offer 25 billion dollars to the federation to buy 49% of the World Club, since redesigned in a new formula with 24 teams. An offer which would have been rejected by the FIFA Council, its highest decision-making body, in particular because of the skepticism of European leaders. But who could well point the tip of his nose again soon, still according to the prestigious American daily, which wrote in early April 2022: “Once reluctant, European officials are now more willing to start positive talks… The Club World Cup – potentially extended to 32 teams – could be validated in the coming months. » Perhaps another major success for Infantino, who had already won his case in January 2017, by expanding the format of the World Cup, which will increase from 32 to 48 nations from the 2026 World Cup. is simple, but effective: more participants, therefore more matches and therefore more audiovisual and commercial revenue for the international federation. Four years later, in 2021, Infantino puts on the table what looks like his most grandiloquent project: to organize the World Cup every two years instead of four. Appointed director of global football development within FIFA, Arsène Wenger will be the initiative’s luxury sales representative (he will, among other things, the one of The Team on September 3, to defend the reform of the Mondial), occasionally attended by luxury ambassadors such as David Trezeguet, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Tim Cahill, Peter Schmeichel or Nuno Gomes.
This time, FIFA is hitting a wall. FIFPRO, the representative body of professional players, asks 1000 of them if they support the project of a biennial World Cup: 75% of those polled say they are against it. UEFA and the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) are fiercely opposed to the project. At the annual FIFA congress organized in Doha at the end of March 2022, the idea will no longer even be on the agenda, even if Infantino, questioned by the press on this subject, performs what looks like a grotesque backpedal. “Let me be very clear: FIFA has never offered a biennial World Cup… The previous FIFA Congress (in 2021) charged by a vote the administration of FIFA to study the feasibility of a World Cup every two years… But FIFA did not propose anything at all. She came to the conclusion that it was doable and that it would have repercussions, an impact. The next phase is consultation, discussion…”
While waiting to possibly revolutionize the World Cups to come, Gianni Infantino must already ensure that the next Qatari World Cup is a success. To do this, the FIFA President has apparently established particularly close ties with the emirate. In early January, the Swiss daily Blick revealed that the FIFA President now lives ” principally ” in Doha, where he “rented a house for himself and his family” . The publication also claims that two of his four daughters are educated in the Qatari capital. In addition to these more personal considerations, Italo-Switzerland had fueled suspicions in recent years, by meeting secretly (without minutes) on three occasions with the Swiss Attorney General Michael Lauber, at the Hotel Schweizerhof in Bern in 2016 and 2017. Lauber – who has since resigned – was then in charge of FIFA investigations. In particular criminal proceedings opened against X in 2015, for “suspicion of unfair management and money laundering” in connection with the controversial awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. During one of these meetings, on April 22, 2016, Infantino had met the prosecutor in Zurich, joining Switzerland from Doha in a jet made available to him by the Emir of Qatar.
Since 2020, the boss of FIFA – who applies his own succession in 2023 and will once again have no competitor – is even the subject of criminal proceedings in Switzerland because of these meetings which were intended to be unofficial. Obviously not enough to scare the man, who continues to campaign for his flagship projects, in particular for the implementation of this famous World Cup every two years. At the end of last January, we even saw him splitting a rather outrageous argument to promote the idea, seeming to insinuate that a biennial World Cup would participate in “finding ways to include the whole world to give hope to Africans so that they do not need to cross the Mediterranean to find perhaps a better life, but, more likely, death at sea. .. We must give opportunities, give dignity. » Those who have experienced the realities of FIFA from the inside, like Miguel Maduro, obviously believe in a more cynical version of the story: “If you manage to create an ambitious Club World Cup, or obtain the organization of a World Cup every two years, you create a new cash machineconcludes Maduro. FIFA works like this: you generate a lot of money at the central level, then you establish your power by distributing this money to the lower levels. Creating these competitions is quite simply generating more money, therefore more power. And that, Infantino knows. » By Adrien Candeau
All remarks collected by AC, except mentions