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FIFA President: The Transcendent Power Of The World Cup Will Keep Refugees From Drowning

Fifa President Gianni Infantino speaks at Jerusalem Post's annual conference on October 12, 2021 in Jerusalem, Israel. The conference featured officials, diplomats and business leaders discussing the health, economic and security challenges facing Israel
Amir Levy/Getty Images

You know what most everyone likes? The World Cup. You know what most everyone hates? The omnidirectional tragedy and stunning death toll of the trans-Mediterranean migration route, which has claimed over 20,000 people with several thousand more missing. You might not think that the two have much to do with each other beyond, I don’t know, human participants, and while you’d be right, FIFA president Gianni Infantino has a radical proposal: What if the migration crisis-sized problem actually had a World Cup-sized solution?

Infantino is currently spearheading a proposal to double the amount of World Cups and hold them every other year instead of every four. While the obvious and correct motive for this plan, which makes no sense in soccer terms, is a big burlap sack with a dollar sign painted on it, Infantino defended his plan at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg on, uh, humanitarian grounds. This is an intensely cynical angle to take for a proposal being pushed by the Saudi state, though in the most charitable possible light, it’s not entirely contradictory. Will the money generated by a now biennial World Cup be funneled toward funding refugee camps, or spotter boats, or other aid programs?

No. In Infantino’s own words, it is explicitly not a matter of charity. Here is what the FIFA president said when trying (and failing) to land a point about how powerful countries control the game:

We need to find ways to include the entire world, to give hope to Africans so that they don’t need to cross the Mediterranean in order to find, maybe, a better life but more probably death in the sea.

PACE

Awfully rich coming from a guy whose landmark tournament will take place in Qatar later this year. After everyone got mad at him for saying this, Infantino said his comments were taken out of context, adding his point was that rich nations have a “responsibility to help improve the situation of people around the world.” It is worth noting here that this is not a matter of mistranslation; Infantino addressed the Parliamentary Assembly in English.

This is a very dumb, at-best patronizing thing to say, and it’s telling that Infantino’s proposal to dilute the World Cup by making each one matter way less can’t really be defended on soccer grounds, thus requiring him to mount rickety defenses about the healing power of hope. CONMEBOL and UEFA have both said that they will boycott bonus World Cups, the IOC hates it, and most major leagues around the world are like, Shut up man. The 48-team World Cup is already going to be bad enough, though perhaps I have not considered the potential humanitarian benefits of FIFA pocketing a few extra billion dollars.