FIFA’s Infantino discusses only ‘positive things’ ahead of 2023 World Cup, avoids player and federation disputes

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said he only wants to talk about “positive things” after he was asked in his pre-Women’s World Cup news conference Wednesday about the many disputes between players and federations.

England, Canada, Spain, Nigeria and others have all had issues either about financial support or broader backing from their federations in recent weeks and months.

“Until August 21 (the day after the final), you’ll hear from me only positive things about everything and everyone,” said Infantino.

“If somebody is still not happy about something, I’m so sorry. I am happy with everything and I love everyone. As for August 21, we’ll focus on other issues around the world and we’ll deal with all the problems coming out.”

In his opening statement to media in Auckland, New Zealand, Infantino began with a joke.

“For those of you waiting to hear how I feel today, today I feel tired because I just landed but I feel very happy,” Infantino said, in reference to his news conference just before the 2022 men’s World Cup in Qatar in which he accused the West of “hypocrisy”, infamously adding: “Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel a migrant worker.”

Speaking the day before the Women’s World Cup begins in Australia and New Zealand, Infantino shied away from addressing concerns about how the tournament has been handled and how women’s soccer in general has been managed by the governing body.

When asked directly about Australia’s video criticizing gender disparity in World Cup prize money and lack of collective bargaining agreements around the world, Infantino refused to address it.

Instead, he spoke about the number of territories in which FIFA will be able to broadcast the World Cup and how many viewers it can potentially reach because of those broadcast deals. FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura said that for the first time in FIFA’s history, the organization decided to look for investment for the Women’s World Cup as its own entity. Previously the tournament was bundled with the men’s World Cup.

Another first for this tournament, FIFA guaranteed player compensation via allocation of prize money to participating federations. Infantino was asked to address the new system of making direct payments to players who participate in the World Cup and how those payments will be made to ensure that the players receive them.

“Money is always a tricky issue, a sensitive issue,” Infantino answered. “I’m pretty happy that, before I was president, the prize money was less than it is now. We’ve been consulting with federations and players to go down the right path. The payments will go through the federations and then they will pay the players. We’ve also been in touch with all federations across the world with regards to specific taxes and agreements with players that they may have and we’re working together to have a smooth world cup in this respect, and as of August 21 we will focus on these other issues.”

One thing FIFA was happy to talk about was ticket sales for this year’s tournament. Samoura said that the number of tickets sold for this event exceeded the total number of tickets sold for the Women’s World Cup in France.

According to Samoura, 1.375 million tickets have been sold so far — but she finished with a plea to all in New Zealand as stadiums in Australia are likely to sell out, but New Zealand still has some stadiums below capacity.

“We still have tickets available. Don’t wait until the last minute to buy tickets,” Samoura said. “This is a moment to savor.”

(Photo: Dan Mullan / Getty Images)

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