Nouakchott, MAURITANIA – The art of politics is best played by those who know how to choose their moments. And, over the past two days, Fifa president Gianni Infantino has sought to do just that.
First, the choice of this city to host this Fifa Summit gathering. The idea behind the initiative is to move one step ahead of the embattled Blatter administration, by tangibly showing that football federations will be listened to.
It had become common to hear complaints from member associations, particularly the smaller nations that are not obvious continental and global powers in the game, feel like they existed to be seen, and not heard. By choosing obscure venues like this one in north-west Africa, Infantino gives instant credibility to his pledge to make world football more inclusive.
“It’s Mr. Infantino’s second time in our humble country in the space of a few years,” noted Mauritania FA boss Ahmed Yahya, “and the signal it sends to people in this country and our regional neighbours is powerful.”
It is, indeed. When a venue for a summit is chosen, a number of countries are chosen to be present to deliberate on issues. The next one will be in Lagos, and that will also serve a number of countries, thereby decentralizing the global football discussion.
Infantino clearly had some specific topics to choose, and whether he left his member associations satisfied with all his policy updates is up for debate.
EXPANDED YOUTH WORLD CUPS
The standout announcement was that expanded global tournaments for youth football are in the offing.
“I can assure you that we will take more into account when it comes to the football of young boys and girls. We plan to go from a 24-team World Cup for boys to a 48-team one. For girls, we want to move from a 16- to 24-team World Cup. We are studying the transition from biennial deadlines to annual deadlines – but not for both age categories; only for U18 or U19. This debate remains open.”
GLOBAL WOMEN’S LEAGUE
And then, he casually chipped in something that should excite women’s football. “We are also thinking of creating a World Women's Football League so that all federations can participate because we should not lose sight of the fact that fifty percent of the world's population is female.”
Again, no specifics, which he defended.
“We did not make decisions [at this summit]; the goal to listen to the federations because I want a much more democratic Fifa. We will make decisions later, as we have a Fifa Council in March 2018 and a Congress in June.”
Women’s football is growing at a phenomenal rate worldwide, no doubt assisted by the wave of interested in gender issues, sexuality and agency in other key industries such as entertainment, politics, and business.
The fear, however, is that behind Western Europe, the United States, and parts of Asia, Africa is being left behind in areas of technical development, infrastructure and general growth. Infantino’s response was to point to the steadily increasing amounts his organization is allocating to local football associations for their programs.
CORRUPTION: ZERO TOLERANCE
As has been the norm for many years, no Fifa gathering worth its name will be complete without a disclaimer on corruption, and this summit was not going to be the exception.
"We will never accept that people are getting richer. I do not know if it's a shock sentence, because it's not the first time I say it. By this I mean, zero tolerance for any kind of corruption. Fifa must be honest. Everyone had to realize that we cannot act as before. It's not me who says it, it's the judges [of the global game]."
"We are asking each football federation to sign a contract with FIFA that focuses on accountability. We are monitoring and auditing centrally to make sure funds are used appropriately," he added.
INFANTINO ADDRESSES QUESTION ON GHANA
Fans of the Black Stars have expressed a growing lack of interest in the team in recent years, particularly after the 2014 World Cup. Joy Sports Gary Al-Smith asked the Fifa boss how he looks to assure fans that Football Associations will be more accountable, following years of complaints about perceived corruption within the Ghana FA.
TRANSFER OF PLAYERS
As fees for players in the world’s marquee leagues balloon, the search for talent in all corners of the world has intensified even more. However, custodians of grassroots football are not benefitting as much as their giant, global corporation-led teams.
"We are moving towards tighter rules on player transfers,” Gianni says. “We will focus on the training and compensation that the training club should receive in case of transfer of the player. On this point, we know that there are different interests at stake. But FIFA has to make decisions to protect the players.”
This would be timely for the African game, which suffers from not enough compensation from trainee clubs due to a plethora of factors including a lack of legal structures from the Fifa side of things. More must be done to protect the continent’s home-based players, who continue to be tied to slave contracts in many areas of Africa and elsewhere.
Research by FifPro, the world’s players’ union, showed that late pay in Africa was higher than on any continent in the world, as highlighted in the 2016 Global Employment Report.
ON THE 2022 WORLD CUP …
"We are focused on the 2018 Russia World Cup. But I must admit that I am pleased with the progress of the work in Qatar. They are early. We are going to have a wonderful World Cup in 2022 ".
Like Blatter before him, the 47-year old Infantino sees Africa as a key ally in his quest to push his ideas of reform, and it seems the world has to get used to seeing Mauritania on the football map.
"Mauritania is not just a local, regional, and African example. It is a beacon to the rest of the world what can be done with commitment. That's why I wanted the Presidents of the Federations to come and see what's going on here. Notwithstanding the ranking of their team at the FIFA rankings, they have a technical center, a new Nouakchott Olympic stadium. And they also have nine other stadiums in different regions, without obscuring other development projects.”
“Moreover, we plan to organize a seminar here in March on development.”
We’ll see you in about a month in this place, Nouakchott.
Gary Al-Smith covered the event for the Mulitmedia Group. See his report for Joy News TV below.
Get him on Twitter: @garyalsmith