MADRID – FIFA President Gianni Infantino said on Friday that in trying to preserve all of the various competitions and adapt them to the situation caused by COVID-19, soccer’s world governing body is being guided by the principle that “the players are the heart of the game.”
In the closing event of the virtual forum organized by the World Football Summit, Infantino discussed the state of the game with Brazilian soccer legend Ronaldo Nazario, currently the owner of LaLiga side Real Valladolid.
FIFA, Infantino said, is considering how best to organize the international match calendar in light of the demands the current scheme puts on players “who have to travel halfway around the world back and forth for these games,” and the circumstances of the pandemic.
“It’s important for us that we find the right balance between clubs and national teams,” he told Ronaldo.
“We have to realize that the core of football is the players. I think some people in some management positions have forgotten that,” Infantino said. “We have to realize that, at FIFA, we are here to make sure that the stage is set for the main actors, which are the players, to shine. We need to be very careful and very mindful about this, about the health of the players.”
The two men agreed in describing the present situation of matches taking place in empty stadiums as “sad.”
“The players are the heart of the game, the fans are the soul of the game,” Infantino said. “Without fans, it’s like without players, it’s not really football. In this moment it’s not possible because of health reasons, but we need to work to have the fans back in the stadium as soon as it’s possible from a health point of view.”
In the context of the rescheduling of competitions due to coronavirus, the Brazilian asked the FIFA boss about perceived resistance to the revamped Club World Cup tourney, originally set to debut in 2021.
“I don’t know why they are afraid of this competition, maybe because it would become the best club competition in the world very soon,” Infantino responded.
“When we decided to do the new Club World Cup, we decided at the same time to discontinue, to stop with the Confederations Cup and the current Club World Cup,” he added. “So I think we are the first sports body in the world who doesn’t just add, but who replaces and makes something which is more relevant.”
Regarding the decision to amend transfer-market rules to reflect the reality of months-long suspensions of league play because of the pandemic, Infantino said that FIFA acted to “protect the integrity of the competitions.”
“It’s important that if a player starts a competition with a club that they finish the competition with that club as well, or at least that we protect the integrity in the sense that this player cannot go on June 30th to play for another club in the same competition and play the last few matches there,” he said.
Infantino said that FIFA was well aware of the likely greater economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis on women’s soccer.
“Women’s football is a top priority for FIFA and we have created a specific task force and working group to deal with questions about women’s football in this particular crisis,” he said.
“We have committed $1 billion from the next four years to be invested by FIFA in women’s football and, in spite of the crisis, we’ll continue with this investment of course,” the president said.
“So, I think we should not use coronavirus to put women’s football aside. On the contrary, we have to help women’s football even more because it has a bright future,” Infantino said after raising the possibility of holding the Women’s World Cup every two years instead of every four.
To address the present crisis, he said, FIFA is striving to provide financial support to soccer organizations around the world through a special $1.5 billion relief fund.
With the world now focused on the scourge of racism, Infantino stressed that FIFA has a “zero tolerance policy against all forms of discrimination, not only racism, but all forms of discrimination.”
“We must say no to racism, we must say no to violence, and we want to be leading by example as well in this particular debate,” he said. “I think it is important to make the voice of football heard.”