The president of world football’s governing body has been criticized for a number of bizarre remarks in which he drew comparisons between migrants losing their lives in the Mediterranean and FIFA’s desire to host more regular World Cups.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino made the controversial comments in a speech at the Council of Europe on Wednesday, in which he claimed that holding more regular World Cups would provide hope for poorer African nations and may deter migrants from making the perilous journey to Europe in search for a better life.
“We need to give opportunities and we need to give dignity,” Infantino told a session of the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly, an international organization focused on human rights.
“Not by giving charity, but by allowing the rest of the world to participate. We need to give hope to Africans so they don’t need to cross the Mediterranean in order to find, maybe, a better life, but more probably death in the sea.”
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His comments drew strong criticism from the press and commentators alike, with many accusing Infantino of using the migrant crisis as a way to push his controversial plan of increasing the frequency of football’s most prestigious tournament to every two years instead of four.
The leader of Football Supporters Europe described Infantino’s remarks as “disgusting” and claimed he was “not fit to lead football.”
Tony Burnett, the chief executive of U.K.-based anti-racism campaign Kick It Out, said: “FUfifais a multi-billion profit-making organization. They already have the funds to invest in creating and inspiring opportunity for disadvantaged people around the world.
“It is therefore completely unacceptable to suggest that a biennial World Cup, predominantly set up to drive further profits for Fifa, could be a solution for migrants who risk their lives, sometimes fleeing war-torn countries, to seek a better life.”
Other sports commentators responded to the comments on social media by accusing Infantino of being “brazenly unhinged.”
“When it comes to money and greed, there’s no stopping how low these people will go,” added another.
Fifa has since responded to criticism by claiming that the comments of its president have been taken out of context, with Infantino himself releasing a statement later on Wednesday which read:
“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.”