KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS: Onofre Costa has taken over at FIFA as the world football federation’s third head of communications in four years. Costa, from Portugal, succeeds Frenchman Fabrice Jouhaud.
Costa, former head of media at the Portuguese football federation, is well-known to Gianni Infantino after acting as consultant on the latter’s ultimately successful campaign to land the FIFA presidency in 2016.
He also played a central role in promoting the vain bid by Portugal and Spain to win co-hosting rights to the 2018 World Cup.
The job of organising FIFA’s media department has grown ever more complex – and crucial – as the technological advances of the internet, general broadcasting and industry convergence have offered new financial and image-generating opportunities.
Costa will not have the benefit of a gentle run-in. One of his first tasks will be preparing for FIFA’s election congress in Paris on June 5.
Infantino will be re-elected unopposed for his first full four-year term but will be the subject of intense international media scrutiny because of the varying issues swirling around his leadership. These include proposals for the possible expansion of 2022 World Cup finals as well as an expanded Club World Cup which has been resisted by European federation UEFA.
Head of communication at FIFA is a role with a limited shelf life.
This may be connected to the fact that senior officials such as former president Sepp Blatter developed a strategy in which their own visibility was enmeshed in the way they wanted the world to view FIFA.
This led directly to the downfall of the long-serving Blatter. Even his own acknowledged media dexterity could not save him from the corruption tsunami which swept away most of FIFA’s senior directors and executives in 2015 and 2016.
In very different old days ‘press officer’ – as the job was then entitled– was merely one of the roles undertaken in the 1970s and early 1980s by assistant general secretary Rene Courte from Luxembourg. A full-time appointee was made in Swiss Guido Tognoni in 1984 and he was followed in 1995 by Englishman Keith Cooper.
Blatter replaced Cooper in 2002 with Swiss sports journalist Markus Siegler and then, in 2008, by Hans Klaus who had been head of crisis response at Swissair.
The sense of an operation paranoid about criticism was enhanced by the appointment of a former war correspondent in Walter De Gregorio, another Swiss journalist, in 2011. He was sacked after a joke in a Swiss TV interview about his bosses backfired spectacularly in the midst of the FIFAGate scandal in mid-2015**.
Nicolas Maingot, regularly and reliably summoned as interim director amid all these comings-and-goings, left FIFA after he was passed over for the top job in August 2016 when Jouhaud was brought in from L’Equipe TV.
A FIFA spokesperson, explaining the latest changing of the guard, said: “FIFA can confirm that Portuguese national Onofre Costa has been appointed as FIFA’s chief communications officer.
“A seasoned executive with extensive experience in the world of football administration, Onofre Costa will take up his position today, 1 April 2019.
“Costa’s predecessor Fabrice Jouhaud will conduct a comprehensive handover process with Onofre until mid-April, by when Fabrice has decided to leave FIFA after having been at the helm of the FIFA Communications Division since August 2016.
“We welcome Onofre on board, while expressing our heartfelt gratitude to Fabrice for his years of good services and wishing him success in his future endeavours.”
** The joke on Swiss TV in 2015 which backfired on Walter De Gregorio ran as follows:
De Gregorio: “The FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the director of communications and the general secretary are all sitting in a car – who is driving?”
Interviewer: “The answer is?”
De Gregorio: “The police.”