KEIR RADNEDGE in BUDAPEST —- Gianni Infantino believes FIFA should take special powers to enforce the fight against racism in football.
The president of the world football federation was addressing the annual congress of the international sports journalists’ association AIPS in the Hungarian capital of Budapest.
Football’s complacency about racism has been rudely upset by incidents in Italy, Eastern Europe, Britain, Germany and Spain. National and international governing bodies have been accused of laxity in punishing offenders.
Infantino said FIFA needed to consider stepping in with punishments of its own when national leagues and associations turned a blind eye to incidents.
He said: “The first step towards solving the problem of racism is to recognise it is a problem and speak about it. I’ve been hearing people say it’s an issue for society. No it’s not. It is our responsibility to fight racism.
“We must educate and that means through [football in] schools, in education systems.
“We also need to use the necessary disciplinary measures to send some strong signals. In UEFA in 2009 we introduced the three-step process and now it’s applied by FIFA so a referee can stop the match or interrupt the match or abandon the match.
“Every referee should be aware of that. This is starting to be applied but only in a few countries.
“I am going to propose that we make these rules universal and if they are not being applied then FIFA has to intervene – a little like the World Anti-Doping Agency – directly in a country, in the national federation and make sure sanctions are undertaken in the case of racist behaviour.
“More important is the personal sanction towards individuals acting in a racist way. We have cameras everywhere these days. Let’s use this system to identify those acting in a racist way and put them out of the stadium for life.”
Infantino also reviewed his weekend meeting with leaders of the African confederation CAF at which he delivered a blueprint for a new structure of the continental game including a possible staging of the Nations Cup every four years rather than every two, as at present.
He said: “If you scratch the surface a little you will realise that top football is concentrated in a very few countries in a small part of the world which is western Europe.
“As president of FIFA I have to care about football not only in a few countries but about making it truly global. At the last World Cup six of the eight quarter-finals were European and the other two were South American. The gap is getting bigger and bigger between Europe and the rest of the world.
“My job as president is to make sure we have 50 countries who can become world champions and 50 clubs around the world who can be at the same level. Of course 20 will be European because of their history and tradition but there should also be some Africans or Asians or North Americans.”
The three central pillars of Infantino’s African rescue plan concern introducing professional referees to help combat corruption, investing in new stadia and developing new competitions.
Infantino said: “I hope CAF has realised that the time has come to change everthing.
“One of the major problems is when referees are not paid, or political influence or when the president decides who referees a match. This cannot be. So we have chosen a list of 20 referees and, with the right organisation and instructors, they will become full professionals appointed by FIFA.
“We will put them under FIFA protection and they will referee the most important matches in Africa. This is performance driven. If they perform well they stay in the list of 20. If not, they are out.”
Infantino said FIFA was now investing four times as much in worldwide football development as when he was elected first in 2016. But FIFA also now took charge in the project commissioning and accounting.
He added: “FIFA, four years ago when I started, was a toxic brand. Nobody wanted to be associated with FIFA because of what had happened. Now we check to make sure every dollar is not going in the pocket or the swimming pool of the president of the federation.”
A third step was revolutionising the international competitive structure because the Nations Cup was punching far beneath its potential financial weight.
Infantino said: “Competitions in Africa are maybe 30 or 40 or 50 times less successful than in Europe. The Nations Cup is played every two years because I was told it generates infrastructure and revenues.
“But I don’t see any proliferation of infrastructure and, in terms of revenues, it is miles away from any decent competition. Maybe there is a good reason other confederations play their competitions every four years. For one thing, exclusivity brings value.
“The same goes for the clubs. That’s why I proposed the creation of a pan-African super league of 20 to 24 clubs which could generate at least $200m per year. Then Africa you can start retaining players and showing the world the quality of its competition.”
Infantino said he was trying to persuade governments and police authorities of the importance of rooting out matchfixing.
He said: “It is a cancer we have to eradicate. When you speak to governments they tell you they have to deal with drug dealers, weaponry, trafficking and prostitution so how does matchfixing in a second division matter?
“But when you explain that the money generated by matchfixing is invested back into drug dealing, then that has an effect.”