No vision, no future: soccer faces another four years of Infantino

Soccer's world governing body FIFA has become very good at one thing only, and that is at making decisions that are terrible for the future of the game. This week, in the East African dictatorship of Rwanda — a country with a shocking human rights record under its President  Paul Kagame — FIFA's member nations re-elected the hollow, self-aggrandizing and relentlessly mediocre Gianni Infantino.

That Infantino stood for re-election without an opponent to challenge his authoritarian reign reflects the chronic absence of democracy, transparency and imagination in an institution that thrives only on fattening its mandate, and bulking out the soccer calendar for maximum exploitation.

The Norwegian federation's Lise Klaveness announced that her federation will not vote for Infantino, and good for her — she's a brave but all too rare dissenting voice in FIFA's insular, male-dominated enclave. Without an opponent or a larger revolt against the sitting president, though, her non-vote is little more than a token protest. Not a single member country or confederation has been able to present a candidate, and that's a depressing reflection of the people who represent our game. Shame on UEFA, Conmebol and Concacaf for failing to produce even one viable individual with a manifesto and a vision for soccer's future.

Instead, this week has seen FIFA Council endorsing Infantino's vanity project to fill our every waking hour with yet more tournaments, while inflating the ones that already exist. Official press releases make laughable claims to caring about player welfare, while announcing confirmation of a 32-team Club World Cup every four years, and a 48-nation World Cup that will last almost six weeks. Under the guise of spreading the game, these moves harbor a single aim — generating more revenue for FIFA.

It was the Machiavellian Joao Havelange who first exploited FIFA's ultra-flawed one-nation, one-vote policy by tapping in to the support from soccer's neglected but member-packed continents — Africa and Asia. That made sense as an electoral ploy in 1974, when he thrashed the out-of-time, imperialistic Englishman Stanley Rous to become FIFA president. Ever since, it's been the model for bad governance. Need votes? Keep pledging to spread the wealth under the pretense of inclusion. Keep allocating tournaments to countries not fit to host, and which do not even meet the most basic criteria of FIFA's own ethical statutes.

It's only a few months since we enjoyed the excitement of the final round of group games at the 32-team (and very non-ethical) 2022 World Cup. And we lamented that such excitement would no longer be possible at future World Cups, because FIFA had already voted to expand the tournament to 48 teams. The idea back then (if 'idea' is not too generous a word) was 16 groups of three. Even FIFA realized this was a rotten format, and promised to review.

Now, we have the results of that review from the FIFA Council. There will be 12 groups of four. The top two teams from each group will qualify for the new knockout round of 32, and then the eight best third-placed teams. The only good thing you can say about this format is that it's not quite as terrible as 16 groups of three. The downside is, of course, that there will be no less than 72 games played just to reduce the field of participants to ... 32 teams — that mathematically perfect number we had for the last seven tournaments.

Speaking of 32, that's the number of clubs taking part in the expanded Club World Cup every four years, starting 2025. This is a festival of sport that the world's knackered players could well do without, and which will inevitably be dominated and won by UEFA's richest clubs. Chelsea and Real Madrid are already inked in, as recent winners of the UEFA Champions League. Their coaches and the players' union FIFPRO will complain about the burden of too many games, but the clubs' accountants and marketing department will send the teams anyway. It'll be great for pushing sponsorship exposure and upping global shirt sales.

And if you're one of the three people on the planet who will miss the current format of regional champions playing every year, don't worry - that ignored and pointless tournament will continue on an annual basis, hosted no doubt by Infantino's cozy and co-operative oil states in the Gulf (next venue — Saudi Arabia).

You could argue that FIFA has done a decent job at supporting the women's game, but frankly, it had no choice. It's also a support based on commercial potential, not on any initiative for equality, fairness and universal health. The drive for expanding the women's game came from below, not above, and FIFA missed the chance to be ahead of its time by at least half a century.

As long as FIFA remains a body run by unelected functionaries accountable to no one besides their grandstanding boss, soccer will be subject to damage from within by ponderous committees like the rule-making International Football Association Board (IFAB). This secretive, reform-shy clique has consistently muddied the game with idiotic amendments to the handball and offside rules, and the game-wrecking implementation of the Video Assistant Referee. It's the perfect illustration of what happens when you combine gob-smacking cluelessness with an utter absence of democracy.

Photo by Harold Cunningham/FIFA
9 comments about "No vision, no future: soccer faces another four years of Infantino".
  1. John Smelzer, March 17, 2023 at 3:45 p.m.


  2. beautiful game, March 17, 2023 at 6:46 p.m.

    FIFA president Infantino' ideas pose an ominous future for soccer as his main objective is revenue  first and the well-being of the game as far less important.

  3. Mike Calcaterra, March 18, 2023 at 12:42 a.m.

    You had me 'til you tossed in the pointless, meaningless notation that FIFA is a dreaded "male-dominated" organization.  It is also human dominated organization...or how about white dominated hierarchy. The FIFA executive committee is, in fact, male-dominated, married dominant, non ex-player and non-referee dominated list but with each member getting the same number of votes.

    Myself and about five other men and one women worked long hours creating separate boys and girls teams in our local clubs and schools - at every level of recreational and competitive play in Southwest Florida.

    My club went from less than 80 girls in an entire program of 850 players to nearly 800 girls in a 2,000 player pool. We were decidedly a male-dominated organization, but we, men and women, grew a program that was fun for girls to play.

    FIFA should not succumb to the lure of woke silliness and seek the best people to fairly represent their constituency, not to meet an artificial benchmark.

    The insertion of the one political adjectival and silly aside, "male dominated", lead me to discount the remainder assertions in the article. I know, that makes me a Neanderthal but the program that started with two patriarchs (normal folk call us Fathers) and no budget has earned hundreds of women to college, most of whom would not have been able to pay for the universities otherwise.

  4. Bob Ashpole replied, March 20, 2023 at 1:02 a.m.

    Good intentions doesn't excuse discrimination. The best youth coaches I have seen have been women, former college players and educators. While gender isn't a qualification for disqualification for a project management position, I have seen far too many male managers with toxic personalities.

  5. Kent James replied, March 21, 2023 at 4:32 p.m.

    Male-dominated is an accurate description of the organization.  For an organization in charge of soccer for millions of women, it's not so radical to suggest that maybe women should be able to provide their perspective by participating meaningfully in the running of the organization.  Encouraging a diversity of experiences helps an organization reach more well-thought out decisions, because it helps the organization avoid blind-spots. 

  6. George Miller, March 18, 2023 at 10:32 a.m.

    Appreciate your comments Mike. Ian is part of the woke crowd who measure everything by race and sex benchmarks. You can't fairly rep black or women or you name it unless you are that. Your race sex gender auto defines you. Behave accordingly or else be called out

  7. Bob Ashpole replied, March 20, 2023 at 2:07 a.m.

    George you are conflating organizations with individuals. Individuals should be evaluated based on their own merits. But organizations are not individuals. Gender stereotypes hold true for about 80% of individuals. About 20% of the time individuals don't fit the stereotypes. With large organizations applying gender stereotypes doesn't have the problem that using it on an individual basis has. 

    I will give you an example. US youth soccer does a poor job of player development. Youth soccer is too focused on winning competitions when it should be focused on developing players. Youth soccer is dominated by males. Males typically are focused on winning competitions rather than on nuturing youth. Females typically are more focused on nuturing and less on competition. So the implication is that poor youth development is the price of male domination in that area. But we have tons of meaningless youth soccer competitions to show for it. And trophies too.

    An educated and informed view of the needs of fair representation is first to listen to the constituents. Far too many MAGA politicians state publicly that they are in Washington to represent the people who voted for them. Such an undemocratic and unAmerican attitude will never result in fair representation. 

  8. Ian Plenderleith, March 19, 2023 at 8:51 a.m.

    "Part of the woke crowd" - I love it when readers pay me compliments! Thank you so much, George. xx

  9. Kent James, March 21, 2023 at 4:41 p.m.

    This column is a good example (metaphorically speaking) of "hard but fair."  Well done.  One would like to avoid politics (I'm referring to the internal politics of FIFA), but unfortunately, as Ian points out, who is making decisions on what basis impacts the game.  FIFA needs a different structure, something that reflects the importance of the voters to the game.  Brazil and Turks & Caicos should not have the same political power within FIFA.  

    You could do voting power based on a measure of soccer importance; registered players (if the numbers could be trusted), #professional teams, WC success, or some combination.  Pure population might be something to consider (not soley, since China and India would dominate, and they're not important as soccer powers); maybe factor in population to avoid entrenching existing soccer powers (which would happen by jusing just WC success, e.g.).  It may not be easy, but we need to do something. 

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