Infantino has FIFA power while voters share World Cup wealth

GENEVA (AP) — FIFA President Gianni Infantino is being re-elected this week to lead a football organization that is richer than ever and has the ambition to add new and bigger leagues, despite growing mistrust of him in Europe.

FIFA’s wealth after the World Cup in Qatar – $ 4 billion in reserves to be distributed among the 211 member federations and many more from the expanded 104-game edition in 2026 in North America – is a major reason why Infantino will not have an opponent in Rwanda for another four years on Thursday.

Since Infantino’s first re-election in 2019, two of the biggest problems in football have been FIFA wanting bi-annual World Cups and legendary clubs wanting a European Super League. Both plans failed.

Infantino pushed for more World Cups, a prospect that would directly challenge the European Championship and the Copa América, as well as upset the Olympic world. While he did not publicly support Super League, he spoke to rebel clubs and seemed at least sympathetic to them, despite the intended disruption of European football’s domestic structure.

The governing bodies of European and South American football have halted much of Infantino’s planned empire-building. However, if they combine only 65 of the 211 votes, they cannot win the presidency alone.

Members who typically rely more on FIFA money are content with Infantino, who has built a solid power base in Africa.

All six regions will also get more seats, and more FIFA money, from the inaugural 48-team Men’s World Cup in 2026. It should be the culmination of Infantino’s next term in a presidency that may not have reached halftime.


Since Infantino’s previous election, FIFA hosted two slick World Cups to packed stadiums on either side of a pandemic that shut down football for parts of 2020 and 2021, including some of its own youth tournaments.

The 2019 Women’s World Cup in France attracted more than 1 billion viewers worldwide. The 2023 edition in Australia and New Zealand will grow from 24 to 32 teams.

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar finally took place after a relentlessly problematic 12-year preparation. It ended on a high with an instant classic final in which Lionel Messi won the trophy with Argentina at the age of 35.

Infantino inherited Qatar in 2016 from the turmoil of Sepp Blatter’s final years and eventually settled in Doha – committing himself fully to the World Cup host. A notable press conference on the eve of the tournament was a polarizing event seen as a major victory by Qatar and Infantino’s allies. Much of Europe, as usual, took a different view of criticism.

Infantino and FIFA believe the World Cup in Qatar accelerated social change and served as a model for other Middle Eastern states.

Infantino’s courtship of actual politics and world leaders – Donald Trump, Mohammed bin Salman and Emmanuel Macron were regular cohorts – can obscure achievements in FIFA’s grassroots work.

Regulating the football industry is more streamlined and progressive, such as protecting players’ maternity rights and trying to ensure that small clubs get their rightful share of hundreds of millions of dollars from transfer fees from players they cherished.

FIFA embraces technology to help referees and a talent identification program is designed to help each member federation find and develop young players.


“It’s your money, not the FIFA president’s money,” Infantino promised voters in his hard-fought maiden election victory in 2016.

FIFA money has been pouring out of Zurich ever since. Member federations that now each get $250,000 a year plus a World Cup pre-election bonus will get at least $8 million from 2023-26.

FIFA outperformed its conservative budget, posting $7.6 billion in revenue for 2019-22, aided by belated and under-publicized World Cup sponsorship deals from YouTube and tourism authorities in Las Vegas and Saudi Arabia.

The $11 billion budgeted income through 2026 has been boosted by many high-revenue NFL stadiums for the men’s World Cup as well as making separate deals for the women’s tournament.

Another political and financial victory was convincing U.S. federal prosecutors to pay restitution on more than $200 million forfeited by corrupt officials and marketing agencies in the sweeping investigation that helped lead Infantino to power.

FIFA shared that money with the football organizations for North and South America, CONCACAF in Miami and CONMEBOL in Paraguay.


A World Cup for 24-team club teams in China in June 2021 was lost to the coronavirus pandemic. Launching a Women’s Club World Cup has been a goal for a long time, but it remains just an idea.

An important football document – the FIFA-administered international fixtures calendar, which determines when clubs must release players to national teams – has long been flagged as a priority to extend before it expires in 2024. The process is complex and involves confederations, clubs, leagues and players’ unions – all with self-serving views on how to play more or less games. FIFA mixed it up with the losing battle of biennial World Cups and it is still unsigned.


FIFA has had alternating close working relationships with Russia and China, Qatar and Saudi Arabia during Infantino’s presidency. So also clubs in the Premier League.

Infantino’s eagerness to work with those countries and heads of state has exposed FIFA to claims from rights groups to enable “sports washing.”

During his first term in office, FIFA commissioned human rights assessments of World Cup bidders and established an independent advisory board. That board was closed in 2021. Human rights advice was adopted internally with a lower profile as Infantino’s ties to Saudi football deepened. A Saudi-led bid to host the 2030 or 2034 World Cup is expected.

FIFA also shut down its once-vaunted Stakeholders Committee, the meeting for clubs, leagues and players’ unions to help make decisions about competitions and rules that affect them.

FIFA consultations have been unclear on proposals such as bi-annual World Cups, the launch of a 32-team Club World Cup in 2025 and changing the format of the 2026 World Cup, despite an earlier agreement six years ago.

The limit of Infantino’s presidential term was also opaque. He was part of a FIFA modernization panel in 2015 that said 12 years should be the maximum for future presidents. Once in office, as hands-on executive president, contrary to the panel’s proposal for a figurehead leader, his term limit was changed. With the process not made public, a decision in Moscow meant his first three years in office through 2019 would not count.

Infantino is now eligible for 15 years at the top of world football until 2031.


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