WORLD FOOTBALL SUMMIT

FIFA's Infantino: “We’re looking at keeping the five substitutes”

FIFA president Gianni Infantino spoke to Ronaldo Nazario in the closing session of the World Football Summit, looking at the future of football and the effects of Covid-19.

FIFA's Infantino: “We’re looking at keeping the five substitutes”

FIFA president, Gianni Infantino, and former player and current president of Real Valladolid, Ronaldo Nazario, hosted the final session of the World Football Summit that’s been running this week in an online version due to the coronavirus pandemic. The session took the format of a fireside chat, with Ronaldo asking most of the questions, although, laughing, he explained “I’m not a journalist, so I’ll be reading out most of the questions.”

The impact of coronavirus on football

Top of everyone’s minds right now is the coronavirus pandemic, and what football can do to overcome the problems caused by Covid-19. Infantino explained that FIFA is working to adapt football to the new realities: “We are listening and talking to people to see how we can shape football to be even better in the future. Things will go back to normal, but hopefully football will be even better than before.”

In particular the FIFA president highlighted the need to provide advice and guidance to local associations, but always taking into account the situation on the ground in each particular place, citing the example that “in France they stopped and finished, but in Germany, they stopped, and then were able to continue and finish the league. So it’s not possible to have one solution for the whole world. We need to set a framework to help and give advice and guidance and to get a spirit of solidarity.”

An example of that solidarity was associations around the world looking at the request from Europe and South America to postpone the Euros and the Copa America for a year, in a “positive spirit”.

FIFA help for associations hit by Covid-19

As to concrete measures Infantino stressed the $1.5 billion fund that FIFA approved last week in order to help associations cope with the pandemic. The president of the game’s governing body also noted that women’s football would be specifically helped by a dedicated part of the fund. Discussing women’s football in particular the FIFA president said that his organisation was looking at playing the women’s world cup every two years rather than every four. “After the men’s world cup it’s the biggest sporting tournament in the world,” he noted, with a TV audience of a billion people.

Clearly aware of the problems FIFA has had in the past over governance issues, Infantino made the point that “everything will be audited and checked. We will have a specific steering group, which will check everything is done in the right way. This is money to be invested correctly.”

Ronaldo: "everything we do is for the fans"

Both Infantino and Ronaldo lamented the lack of fans in the stadiums due to Covid-19. “If the players are the heart of football, the fans are the soul”, said the FIFA president, while Ronaldo said, “We miss the fans, as a former player I can say that everything we do is for them. When I scored a goal I was happy for the fans. I was happy seeing people being happy.”

Ronaldo was keen to know the opinion of the FIFA president about the amount some players are being asked to play as competition restarts. Infantino admitted it was a very good question: “The Champions League finishes at the end of August, then we have international matches, then the leagues, then the European Championships and then into the 2020/21 season, which has the World Cup, so it’s a tight schedule. We need to be very careful about the health of the players. We’ve got the five substitutions rule and maybe that should carry on. We need to assess that.”

Ronaldo said he was a fan of the rule: “ I like the solution of five substitutions. In LaLiga we can put three or four players from the second team in the first squad, so it’s a great opportunity for the players too.”

Club World Cup in the spotlight

The Club World Cup’s new format was also debated, with Ronaldo admitting one of his dreams was to see his club, Real Vallodolid, in the tournament. Infantino said he didn’t understand why people were afraid of it, because “it’s not competing with anything”. In his opinion the new format is important because “clubs now don’t just represent their city, they have fans all over the world.”

Infantino wanted to stress the importance of players as role models, saying they can make a difference to society. “Normal people like us, when we stop working we become ex-doctors or ex-lawyers, but you footballers don’t become ex-players, you become legends. You are an example. And we should foster this.”

He gave the example with the coronavirus and the message to wash your hands regularly: “If a Medical professor say you have to wash your hands, I’m not sure how many children will do it. But if you have a fenómeno [Ronaldo’s nickname from his playing days] saying you have to wash your hands, you will have several hundred million children saying Ronaldo says I have to wash my hands, and they will wash their hands.”

The good football can do for society

This importance of the social good football can do is a key part of Infantino’s message and he took the opportunity to talk about that in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in the United States and the Black Lives Matters protests.

“We have zero tolerance policy agains all forms of discrimination including racism. We must say no to violence. And we want to be leading by example in this particular debate.” Infantino mentioned FIFA’s All Together campaign, which Ronaldo took part in.

“I was really glad to be part of that," said Ronaldo. "Fighting against racism isn’t a fight for black people, it’s a fight for everyone. Nobody is born racist. We have to fight against people learning to be racist. And it’s everybody’s fight. We have a loud voice and we need to use it. I was so happy to participate in the campaign against racism. We have to keep fighting. We have to fight every day.”