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Gianni Infantino: FIFA president says his comments about refugees ‘crossing the Mediterranean’ were ‘misinterpreted’

<i>Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images</i><br/>Gianni Infantino
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Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
Gianni Infantino

By George Ramsay, CNN

Gianni Infantino, the president of football’s global governing body FIFA, has said his remarks about a biennial World Cup and bringing “hope” to refugees crossing the Mediterranean have been “misinterpreted.”

Speaking in an address to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) on Wednesday, Infantino spent the final part of his speech talking about FIFA and its “Future of Football” initiative.

That initiative includes plans to host a World Cup every two years — rather than four — after the international match calendars for women’s and men’s football expire in 2023 and 2024 respectively.

“This topic is not about whether we want a World Cup every two years, but about what do we want to do for the future of football,” said Infantino, who went on to argue that, in Europe, it feels like the World Cup “takes place twice per week because the best players are playing [there].”

He continued: “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.

“We need to give opportunities and we need to give dignity, not by giving charity, but by allowing the rest of the world as well to participate.

“Now maybe the World Cup every two years is not the answer. We discuss it. We debate it. We started the process.”

Tony Burnett, the CEO of anti-racism group Kick It Out, later said in a statement sent to CNN that it was “completely unacceptable” for Infantino to suggest a biennial World Cup “could be a solution for migrants who risk their lives, sometimes fleeing war torn countries, to seek a better life.”

According to data from the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, close to 5,000 refugees and migrants have arrived in Italy, Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Malta via the Mediterranean so far this year.

‘No’ to extravagant World Cup proposals

The 51-year-old Infantino has previously said that a World Cup every two years would give countries “a more realistic chance of playing on the global stage,” while FIFA also estimates that $4.4 billion extra revenue would be generated.

In a statement released by FIFA on Wednesday, Infantino responded to criticism of his earlier remarks, saying: “Given that certain remarks made by me before the Council of Europe earlier today appear to have been misinterpreted and taken out of context, I wish to clarify that, in my speech, my more general message was that everyone in a decision-making position has a responsibility to help improve the situation of people around the world.

“If there are more opportunities available, including in Africa, but certainly not limited to that continent, this should allow people to take these opportunities in their own countries.

“This was a general comment, which was not directly related to the possibility of playing a FIFA World Cup every two years.”

The plans for a biennial World Cup have been opposed by the football governing bodies in South America and Europe. Concerns have also been raised about the world’s best players suffering from burnout due to an increased number of matches.

However, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) — the governing body for football in Africa — has backed the proposals.

On Wednesday, UEFA president Aleksander Čeferin underlined the organisation’s stance against a World Cup every two years.

“European institutions and European football — as well as the European sports movement — stand firmly united behind our values and solidarity-based model,” Čeferin said after UEFA received backing for its model for the game from the Council of Europe.

“There is no room for interpretation or negotiation. It’s ‘No’ to selfish super leagues and ‘No’ to extravagant World Cup proposals. But ‘Yes. Yes. Yes’ to working together to protect and strengthen our model that works in the interest of European football and society.”

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