Unsurprisingly re-elected, Infantino prepares FIFA expansion
A football World Cup with 104 matches from 2026, a planetary tournament of 32 clubs: re-elected Thursday for four years at the head of Fifa, the Italian-Swiss Gianni Infantino, in office since 2016, intends to inaugurate an era of all superlatives , inflating competition and income.
Gathered in Kigali for the 73rd Congress of the world football body, the delegates of the 211 member federations renewed by acclamation the 52-year-old leader, alone in the running as in his previous election in 2019, without this system allowing to count dissenting votes.
The president of the Norwegian Federation, Lise Klaveness, however, had warned that she would not support Infantino, and brought to the agenda a discussion on the “reparation in the event of violation of human rights” linked to FIFA competitions. , demanding a death toll on the construction sites of the World Cup-2022 in Qatar and their compensation.
But the Europeans could not agree on a competing candidacy and Michel Platini’s former confidant at UEFA (2009-2016), unexpectedly elected head of Fifa in February 2016 after a cascade of scandals , is guaranteed to remain at the top of world football at least until 2027.
– Redistributive power –
If the statutes of the Zurich organization now provide for three terms of a maximum of four years, Infantino has already prepared the ground to stay until 2031, declaring in mid-December that he was “still in his first term”, since his 2016-2019 lease was incomplete.
The horizon seems clear for the smooth-skinned lawyer, who again proclaimed on Thursday that he wanted to “make football truly global”, and poses as a bulwark against the sporting and economic hegemony of European football thanks to FIFA’s development programs , boosted by its growing revenues.
Like four years ago, it can show a solid financial balance sheet, with an 18% increase in income and 45% increase in reserves over the 2019-22 cycle compared to the previous one, which allows Fifa to further increase its subsidies to confederations and federations, which is the key to its redistributive system as well as to its electoral system.
Because the organization grants the same amounts to Trinidad and Tobago, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Bermuda and Papua New Guinea as to Brazil or Germany, each of these federations also having a voice in Congress.
As long as the president pleases the 35 associations of Central America, including many Caribbean islands, or the 54 African federations, he can thus afford to offend the powerful European nations: by considering a biennial World Cup before give it up last year, or by prohibiting a handful of selections from wearing an inclusive “One Love” armband during the Qatari World Cup, to proclaim their attachment to LGBT rights.
– Football fractures –
On the governance side, his last mandate was marked by a vast reform of transfers, by the institution of maternity leave for professional players as well as by more protective rules of disciplinary procedure for victims of sexual violence.
The main projects for the next few years have already been approved: starting with the passage of the Men’s World Cup from 32 to 48 teams from the 2026 edition shared between the United States, Canada and Mexico, decided in 2017 and whose format was set on Tuesday.
By opting for a group stage with twelve groups of four teams, the tournament will jump from 64 to 104 matches, a juggernaut cut to explode ticketing revenues and entice ever more broadcasters.
In addition, FIFA decided on December 16 to expand its Club World Cup from an annual seven-team format to a quadrennial competition with 32 teams from the summer of 2025. A project that its boss has been trying to bring to fruition since years to compete in the lucrative UEFA Champions League.
But this race for expansion could well awaken the fractures of football: Wednesday evening the World League Forum (WLF), bringing together around forty championships, denounced decisions “without consultation”, which further weigh down “an already overloaded calendar, and take no account of the impact on the competitiveness of domestic leagues and the health of players”.
The WLF, like its European League counterpart bringing together the European championships, will “decide” on the “most appropriate” responses, leaving the threat of a legal response hanging over.