Earlier today, FS1 aired THE FIFA PRESIDENCY: GIANNI INFANTINO, a one-hour special featuring the first English-language interview with new FIFA president Gianni Infantino since the day of his February 26 election, replacing the embattled Sepp Blatter. The special, conducted by FOX Sports soccer analyst Alexi Lalas, focused on topics from Infantino’s plans for FIFA reform, his reaction to his name being included in the “Panama Papers” and his thoughts on gender equality in world soccer. Infantino also shared that he backed deciding by 2020 on the host for the 2026 World Cup. See below for the top highlights and quotes.
Alexi Lalas: We started talking about the short period of time that you have been the president but do you think that there are still individuals or entities within FIFA that are corrupt?
Gianni Infantino: Well I don’t know whether there are still individuals or entities that are corrupt. I hope not. If there are then they have the choice now to leave FIFA because sooner or later either we or the justice will catch them and they will be kicked out and punished. They have the chance to leave now.
Infantino on his commitment to FIFA as President: “What I can guarantee to everyone is my full commitment to do the right thing. I hope the people see me as a football person, as a football fan who has done something good for football. I think if we manage to bring football back to FIFA, which means of course we will have implemented all of the reforms, all of the transparency. But these are things which go or should go without saying so that we can really focus on football and do something good for football around the world and all the people that love the game.”
Infantino on the difference in World Cup prize money between men and women: “When it comes to the prize money for the World Cup, it had been increased already from $10 to $50 million, and the prize money 50% from the last World Cup to this one. But still, very low compared to what it could be or should be. I think we need to focus now on redevelopment of women’s football at the top, but also at the grassroots level we need to create the basis. We need to focus and we need to discuss. The Women’s World Cup, women’s football in general, is increasing. I think what will help in this respect as well is if we don’t speak only about women’s football, but also women in football. We need to have women in leadership positions in football. This will help make us men evolve a little bit in the right direction.
What is more important as well is how can we invest more into the development of the women’s game. It is about giving them what is right and what is deserved. It must be right. For this we have to discuss, we need to sit around a table and find the right solution.”
Lalas: The Panama Papers recently have implicated you in questionable TV rights when you were with UEFA. What is your response to those allegations?
Infantino: “UEFA and I have made it very clear that this whole situation is basically a non story. There was a tender process everything is well documented it has been done completely, transparently and properly. If after the deal has been concluded and the contract has been concluded again, that based on the open tender some people have committed a criminal activity, then these people need to be judged of course. But it has nothing to do with the process that team marketing and UEFA took in order to sell these rights. I think this has been clarified and I am moving on.
I am feeling relaxed because I know the facts. I know everything was done correctly. I was at the beginning quite upset about how it was reported. I think it was just disgraceful the way it was portrayed. I am also confident about myself and convinced that this will even strengthen my position in FIFA going forward.”
Lalas: When are you going to announce when the date for [the 2026 World Cup bidding] is going to happen?
Infantino: “Well we will discuss it at the next FIFA council meeting in Mexico in May. The thinking now is that we will start with the process now with the consultation process with a decision probably to be taken in 2020 six years before the World Cup.”
Lalas: Last week Amnesty International issued a new report regarding the abuse of workers that are building the Qatar World Cup Stadium. What are you doing about this situation that doesn’t seem to be going away?
Infantino: “Let’s not forget that Qatar is a very young state as well and is going through a development in very few years that other countries needed our countries needed hundreds of years to go through. But we need to be very pragmatic and take concrete steps as well. This report that you mentioned from Amnesty International was mentioning four companies and as a matter of fact before even the report finally was issued and based on this research that was done, three of these four companies were already declared ineligible so they can no longer work in Qatar and the fourth one has been able to rectify the shortages.
I think and I believe that we will be judged all together based on how concretely the conditions of the workers have improved and will improve over time. We are looking into that with the Qatar authorities. We have also been working with Professor Ragi on the reports that should be published soon on human rights in football. We take this topic very seriously. We must acknowledge that changes like this cannot happen from one day to the other but progress has already happened and I am sure will continue to keep happening more. So football, and the World Cup, is actually a very important catalyst for change.”