What Fifa president Gianni Infantino’s utterances lack in self-awareness they make up for in bombast and questionable parallels.
From praising President Trump, Russia and Iran to comparing his career with Rwanda’s recovery from genocide, Infantino’s speeches and other public pronouncements rarely fail to raise eyebrows.
To mark his re-election, City A.M. has compiled 10 of the Swiss-Italian’s most memorable quotes from his time in the Fifa hotseat.
In Kigali for his unopposed re-election, Infantino drew on the country’s horrific history to make a crass analogy about his rise to the £3m-a-year job in 2016.
“What this country has suffered and how this country came back up is inspiring for the entire world. I said, who am I to give up? I continued to campaign … I was elected Fifa president.”
Infantino drew condemnation from human rights campaigners after claiming that Fifa’s push for biennial World Cups could prevent migrant deaths.
“We need to find ways to include the whole world to give hope to Africans so that they don’t need to cross the Mediterranean in order to find maybe a better life but, more probably, death in the sea.”
After a first year in charge that saw him sack his ethics department, Infantino insisted he had made a clean break from Fifa’s corruption years.
“Fifa bashing has become a sport in some countries. But we’re transparent. We’re a deeply honest organisation.”
Infantino buttered up President Trump on a 2020 visit to the White House by declaring him “a sportsman” who “says actually what many think”.
“I am lucky enough in my life to come across some of the most talented athletes in soccer. And President Trump is made of the same sort of fibre.”
Today I feel…
On the eve of last year’s Qatar World Cup, Infantino began his speech by suggesting his experience as a rich white man allowed him to relate to various minorities.
“Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arabic. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker.”
Infantino told “Western media” not to “try to paint with a dark paint everything that comes from the east – from Russia or the Arab world” a year out from the 2018 World Cup, and then struck a triumphant note at the close of the tournament, which he said had shown Vladimir Putin’s critics had it all wrong.
“This country, Russia, has changed,” he said. “Russia has become a real football country.” By the next tournament, Putin’s troops had invaded Ukraine.
Turning a page
The Fifa chief defended his integrity after becoming embroiled in a row over the Panama Papers just months after taking office.
“I go my way. We have embraced reforms. We have embraced transparency. We have embraced good governance. We have turned a page.”
Infantino kicked off his second year in charge by calling in on dictator Robert Mugabe during a trip to Zimbabwe.
It came as the Fifa president trumpeted his determination to “protect football’s integrity” and “change the face of the organisation”.
Red hair and freckles
Warming to his theme in that infamous pre-Qatar World Cup speech, Infantino revealed the extent of his persecution as a Swiss-Italian child in Switzerland.
“I know what it means to be discriminated, to be bullied, as a foreigner in a foreign country. As a child I was bullied because I had red hair and freckles – plus I was Italian, so imagine.”
A day after returning from a trip to Iran in which he praised its progress on gender equality despite 35 women being arrested for attending a match, he acknowledged Fifa’s limitations.
“We cannot solve all the problems of the world in Fifa. But we can always bring a smile.”