Mandela, Gandhi … Infantino? Yes, it’s Fifa Congress time again | Soccer


TO DOHA!

When Russia played Saudi Arabia in the opening match of the last World Cup, Gianni Infantino wasn’t the only dignitary in the crowd. As Russia opened the scoring, the cameras cut to the corporate seats, where the Fifa president could be seen sharing a funny joke with the matchday buddies sitting either side of him, Vladimir Putin and Sheikh Mohammed bin Salman. Of course, this was back in the days before the Saudi crown prince was discovered to have ordered his hit squad to play fast and loose with a bonesaw, or the Russian president had declared outright war on Ukraine. On that particular summer’s evening in Moscow, they were just a pair of common-or-garden tyrants kicking back and enjoying the craic, brought together by their good pal Gianni.

But despite subsequently accepting a medal of friendship from Putin, Infantino has now been forced to concede that, despite his high hopes, staging the World Cup in Russia had not invoked the warm fuzziness he’d hoped in the Russian president. Speaking at the 72nd Fifa congress, staged in Qatar before Friday’s Human Rights World Cup draw, Infantino insisted that while Russia 2018 had been “a great success”, sadly “it did not solve the problems of the world”. Not only that, “it did not create a lasting peace”, he parped. “Therefore my plea, to all of those who have some power in this world, to all of those who are in important political positions in the world – please, please stop conflicts and wars. Please, for our children, for our future.”

But while football may have come up short when it came to stopping conflict, Infantino remains confident it can still play an important role. Asked about the legacy of Russia 2018, he sidestepped the question with a rambling answer that invoked the legacy of two fabled leaders. “If you look at the last century, who are the people who made the most impact?” he enquired rhetorically. “Mandela and Gandhi. They had many reasons to be violent. They went another route. I think football can be like that … create understanding.” This year, football will be attempting to create understanding in Qatar, where human rights abuses remain rife and more than 6,500 migrant workers are reported to have died since the country started whipping itself into shape for the big kickabout.

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On that theme, Norwegian FA president Lise Klaveness delivered a stinging address. “Football can inspire dreams and break down barriers but as leaders we must do it right, to the highest standards,” she said. “In 2010, World Cups were awarded by Fifa in unacceptable ways with unacceptable consequences. Human rights, equality, democracy: the core interests of football were not in the starting XI until many years later. Fifa has addressed these issues but there’s still a long way to go. The migrant workers injured, the families of those that died in the buildup to the World Cup must be cared for.” Having been more or less told to sit down and shut up by a more Fifa-approved Honduran delegate, Klaveness was later criticised by Hassan al-Thawadi, Qatar 2022 secretary general, who described her views as “outdated”. Again, that’s the hosts, a country so modern that homosexuality is illegal and women remain obliged by law to obey their husbands.

LIVE ON BIG WEBSITE!

Join Nick Ames from 5.45pm BST for MBM coverage of Wolfsburg 3-1 Arsenal (agg 4-2) in Women’s Big Cup.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“The NFF has terminated the entire technical crew of the team with immediate effect. A new crew will be announced after a proper review to lead the new charge of reinvigorating the Super Eagles to face future challenges appropriately” – Nigeria’s FA responds to their HRWC playoff exit in the rational fashion of wholesale sackings.

Angry Nigeria fans break the benches following their exit at the hands of Ghana in Abuja.
Angry Nigeria fans break the benches following their exit at the hands of Ghana in Abuja. Photograph: Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images

MOVING THE GOALPOSTS

The Fiver has a new sister email, folks! It’s a weekly roundup of the wonderful world of women’s football called Moving the Goalposts. You don’t need to be told that it’s smarter and wittier than us – so sign up here. The first edition has already been sent whistling into inboxes but you can get a taste here.

FIVER LETTERS

“When Leicester fans inevitably boo Harry Maguire this weekend, please remember it’s because he left us for Money and Glory, and nothing to do with how bad he is playing” – John Cox.

“I enjoyed Steven Pye’s article on the Liverpool team of 1984 who won an unprecedented treble (yesterday’s Still Want More?). I was especially taken by the wonderful quote from Graeme Souness as the unusually inconsistent Reds claimed the league title (‘By our own standards we didn’t deserve to win the title again … But by everybody else’s standards, we did’). Surely we could do with Mr Souness and his natty turn of phrase being hired as a pundit by one of the crop of current football broadcas … ah” – Colin Reed.

Send your letters to the.boss@theguardian.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our prizeless letter o’ the day is … John Cox.

NEWS, BITS AND BOBS

John Deehan, the former Aston Villa, West Brom, Norwich and Ipswich striker, has been living with Alzheimer’s disease for the last six years. “If you come across him at a match or elsewhere, please don’t be afraid to interact with him,” said his wife Linda. “Please understand that John may not be able to converse in the way he once did, but he still loves to talk about football and share a laugh.”

Barcelona are through to the last four of Women’s Big Cup after a record 91,553 people packed the Camp Nou to see them belt Real Madrid 5-2 (8-3 on aggregate) in a humdinger.

Some sight.
Some sight. Photograph: Álex Caparrós/Uefa/Getty Images

USA! USA!! USA!!! are off to the HRWC on goal difference despite a 2-0 defeat in Costa Rica. “The party is going. I think we have run out of beer,” whooped defender Walker Zimmerman.

Bruno Fernandes has agreed a new Manchester United contract that will make him one of the club’s three highest-paid on-field trouserers.

Barcelona are sniffing around Stamford Bridge and have caught the scent of defenders.

Premier League clubs have voted in favour of allowing five substitutions per team from next season.

One to file away for when their managers are complaining about fixture congestion: Manchester United will face Liverpool in Bangkok, before tackling Melbourne Victory and then Crystal Palace at the MCG as part of their flamin’ pre-season tour in July.

And South Shields FC are going to host their first ever music festival, with Mariners Fest taking place on 21-22 May.

RECOMMENDED LISTENING

Give your ears a treat with the latest Football Weekly Extra podcast.

STILL WANT MORE?

Graeme Le Saux gets his chat on with Barney Ronay.

Meanwhile, Barney argues that booing Harry Maguire is a nonsensical panto pile-on.

How south London became a talent factory for Black British footballers. A belting long read by Aniefiok Ekpoudom, which also reminds us of this.

All hail the concrete Catalonia!
All hail the concrete Catalonia! Photograph: Richard Baker/In Pictures/Getty Images

Who is going to win the WSL? Karen Carney tries to choose between Chelsea and Arsenal.

And if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!



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