The new president and leader of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, presents his management plan to revolutionize the football of the future: greater investment in football, players and fans, promotion of women’s football, technological innovation and direct control of commercial operations
“As leaders of this sport we need to go back to being more like fans and be less political”. With this declaration of intent and a revolution in mind, the Italian Gianni Infantino took over the reins of FIFA on February 29. It has taken him eight months to put out the fire left by Joseph Blatter (suspended for corruption) that was temporarily handled by Cameroonian Issa Hayatou, whose presidency lasted 4 months awaiting the promised relief.
Gianni Infantino is the man who must lead the most important entity in world of football over the coming years and who presented a revolutionary plan at the last FIFA Congress in October, a roadmap he has named FIFA 2.0: the future of football. His ideas are based on full transparency to restore confidence in FIFA and, from there, build a future that takes into account all those who have made and are making this sport a mass phenomenon worldwide.
“We need players and fans because without them football is nothing. I think these two elements have been neglected too long and it is time to change that”, said Infantino when he took office. Then he left his tie on a hanger in his office for formal meetings, packed a few football kits in his suitcase and travelled the five continents to see with his own eyes what needs there are.
These needs go from getting the 211 federations that make up FIFA to feel equally supported whatever their country, to starting to invest in women’s football and looking after lower football levels.
THE FORWARD PROGRAM
The FIFA president has proposed to invest $4 billion on the development of football over the next 10 years through the 211 member associations, via the Forward program and other funding initiatives. The Forward program ensures that each federation will have $750,000 a year for infrastructure projects, competitions and women’s football; plus an additional $500,000 for operating expenses in administration and governance.
Those federations who need it will have access to more aid, ranging from football equipment and training programs to sums of up to one million dollars to cover travel expenses and thus ensure the participation of women’s and youth teams in international competitions. Economic support to the six confederations is also to be increased to encourage the development of football in their respective geographic areas: the $22 million that they received until now will be increased to $40 million.
Making the World Cup more open to the world is another of the president’s initiatives. “We need to increase the World Cup to 40 teams and give eight more countries the opportunity to participate in FIFA’s number one tournament and, at the same time, give many more countries the chance to compete in the qualifying stages in a stronger way. Not all countries can go to a World Cup, some will not even dream of getting there, whether they are youth or senior players, men or women, but they also have to play,” says Infantino.
MORE PLAYERS, MORE WOMEN
It has also been proposed, as a result of his strategy, to increase overall participation in football from 45% to 60% of the world population, at all levels (players, coaches, referees and fans). And to double the number of women playing football worldwide to 60 million within 10 years, through the development and implementation of a strategy to make women’s football a mass sport, similar to men’s football. To this end, FIFA will give its member federations up to $315 million to encourage the organization of youth and professional women’s leagues.
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Infantino has put New Zealander Sarai Bareman in charge of managing women’s football. After being financial director of the Samoa Football Federation and chief operating officer of the Oceania Football Confederation, she was the only woman to be part of the 2016 FIFA Reform Committee.
The person in charge of implementing the deep restructuring that the Italian leader is undertaking is also a woman. Senegalese diplomat Fatma Samoura is the first woman to hold the position of secretary-general of FIFA and is the person who will help it make the shift towards transparency. The organization is now structured in two different blocks: one for generating commercial revenue and carrying out the administrative work, and another that is focused on the development of football and organizing competitions.
CHANGES IN COMMERCIAL OPERATIONS
The World Cup is FIFA’s flagship tournament and it will undergo major changes – to begin with, in the management of ticket sales, which will be controlled directly by FIFA to establish a closer relationship with fans and to maximize box office profits. A working group has been set up to implement the changes for the 2022 Qatar World Cup. The management of the competition will also be in FIFA’s hands and not the host country staff as has happened until now. And finally, the process of selecting candidate federations to host the World Cup will also be reviewed to ensure the transparency that Infantino’s management so insists on.
OUR FOOTBALL SPECIALIST’S ANALYSIS
Oliver Seitz, specialist in football business development and academic director of the FC Barcelona Master in Football Business at the Johan Cruyff Institute, analyzes the changes experienced by FIFA’s management during the last two mandates.
“Havelange’s FIFA was expansionist, while Blatter’s FIFA focused on managing the relationship with the global political powers. With FIFA 2.0, Infantino starts his term as president by trying to set his mark as a president that will try to create balance within the now highly diverse football world. With many more countries – and governments – as stakeholders, Infantino needs to shape the focus of his administration to please the larger audience. Even though the vast majority of football money is concentrated on five European countries (England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France), these countries represent only 2% of the General Assembly which, ultimately, Infantino responds to”.
According to Oliver Seitz, “FIFA 2.0 is a clear picture of this. It is aimed to please everyone. But, to do so, Infantino’s FIFA needs to grow influence. It needs to leave Switzerland and be more present around the world. It needs to grow the number of employees. It needs to talk more directly to the fans. Under Havelange and Blatter, FIFA grew in number of countries. Under Infantion, FIFA will try to grow in influence in everything related to football. From concentrating more powers on the organisation of its events to designing strategies to tackle the growth of other sports. Infantino tries to please all main stakeholders of FIFA, but the organisation’s network is immense. It will be a very difficult task”.