FIFA chief eyes reboot for soccer to avoid financial crisis from COVID-19 shutdowns

FIFA President Gianni Infantino speaking during a virtual news briefing to launch a WHO and FIFA joint awareness campaign to stop the spread of the COVID-19 on March 23, 2020. (AFP)
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Updated 24 March 2020

FIFA chief eyes reboot for soccer to avoid financial crisis from COVID-19 shutdowns

GENEVA: The future of soccer could be fewer games and fewer top competitions to help avoid a financial crisis, FIFA president Gianni Infantino said in a newspaper interview published Monday.

With soccer around the world in near-total shutdown and no end in sight because of the coronavirus pandemic, Infantino said the sport risked going into recession.

“Maybe we can reform world football by taking a step back,” Infantino said in the interview with Italian daily Gazzetta dello Sport published on his 50th birthday.

“There needs to be an evaluation of the global impact,” the FIFA president said. “Let’s all together save soccer from a crisis that risks becoming irreversible.”

Infantino said different formats could be an answer, with “fewer, but more interesting tournaments. Maybe fewer squads, but more balance. Fewer, but more competitive, matches to safeguard the health of the players.”

Before the pandemic, Infantino added to the congested soccer calendar by expanding the World Cup from 32 to 48 teams for the 2026 edition, and by trying to launch a 24-team Club World Cup next year.

The inaugural edition of the latter tournament in China was delayed last week after UEFA and South American soccer body CONMEBOL postponed their championships by one year to 2021. That was to give domestic leagues time to try to finish their seasons.

The shutdown means there are already too few dates in the FIFA-managed calendar to complete the scheduled qualification paths for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

The pressure now on soccer stakeholders — many with conflicting interests — is likely to force a debate on the squeezed schedule that the pandemic has exposed.

Some influential clubs in Europe are pushing to get more guaranteed games in a bigger Champions League, and 20-team top leagues could be under pressure to make cuts. Those include leagues in England, Spain and Italy.

“It’s not science fiction. Let’s discuss it,” Infantino said about the possibility of changing soccer calendars.

FIFA announced last month a task force of officials from member federations, clubs, leagues and player unions that would look at drafting a new match calendar from 2024. That work could also now include the next four years to adjust to the current shutdown.


FIFA bribe allegations raise more questions over Qatar World Cup

Updated 07 April 2020

FIFA bribe allegations raise more questions over Qatar World Cup

  • Suspicion and rumors have long surrounded Qatar's bid

LONDON: The 2022 World Cup in Qatar has become the focus of fresh FIFA corruption allegations after the release of a new US Department of Justice indictment which says bribes were paid to football officials to secure their votes for hosting rights.

Suspicion and rumors have long surrounded both the 2010 vote by FIFA’s executive to hand the 2018 World Cup to Russia and the 2022 tournament to Qatar. But on Monday, for the first time, prosecutors set direct, formal allegations down in print.

According to the prosecutors, representatives working for Russia and Qatar bribed FIFA executive committee officials to swing votes in the crucial decision of world football’s governing body.

FIFA and the Qatar World Cup organizers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Qatar and Russia’s World Cup bids have always denied paying bribes.

Although FIFA has reacted to previous media allegations about the Qatar bid process by insisting the tournament will be unaffected, the USallegations will lead to further questions over the hosting of the tournament, which is scheduled for November and December of 2022.

The indictment states that the three South American members of FIFA’s 2010 executive — Brazil’s Ricardo Teixeira, the late Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay and an unnamed co-conspirator — took bribes to vote for Qatar to host the 2022 tournament.

“Ricardo Teixeira, Nicolas Leoz and co-conspirator #1 were offered and received bribe payments in exchange for their votes in favor of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup,” reads the indictment.

Teixeira, the former son-in-law of long-time FIFA boss Joao Havelange and ex-head of the Brazilian soccer federation (CBF), was not immediately reachable for comment.

The DOJ also alleges that then FIFA vice president Jack Warner was paid $5 million through various shell companies to vote for Russia to host the 2018 World Cup.

Warner has been accused of a number of crimes in the long-running USprobe and is fighting extradition from his homeland of Trinidad and Tobago. Warner, who was not immediately reachable for comment, has always denied any wrongdoing.

Alexei Sorokin, CEO of the local organizing committee for Russia’s 2018 World Cup, told the Interfax news agency: “This is only the opinion of lawyers. We have repeatedly said that our bid was transparent.

“At the time we answered all questions, including from the investigation branch of FIFA and from the media, we handed over all needed documents. We have nothing to add to this and we will not respond to attempts to cast a shadow on our bid.”

Asked if the Kremlin was aware of the US indictment, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: “We read the media reports. We don’t understand what they refer to.

“Russia received the right to host the World Cup completely legally. It is in no way linked to any bribes. We reject this. And Russia hosted the best soccer World Cup in history, which we are proud of.”

The Qatar World Cup organizers have been fending off allegations of corruption ever since the tiny Gulf state was awarded the 2022 tournament.

In 2014, FIFA, then under the control of former President Sepp Blatter, cleared Russia and Qatar of wrongdoing in their bids to host the World Cup after an investigation.

Blatter was banned from football by FIFA along with scores of other officials following internal ethics investigations, promoted by the arrests of seven FIFA officials on UScorruption charges in Zurich in May 2015.