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FIFA

Infantino attempts to walk back his 'Africans drowning' comments

Gianni Infantino attempted to clarify comments he made about Africa during an address to the European Council on Wednesday.

Update:
Infantino attempts to walk back his 'Africans drowning' comments
CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images

FIFA president Gianni Infantino said his comments suggesting biennial World Cups could convince African people not to risk "death" by crossing the Mediterranean Sea were "taken out of context".

Infantino quickly on the defensive

Infantino was addressing the European Council on Wednesday, speaking about a range of topics including football agents, Qatar 2022 and FIFA's proposals for World Cup finals every two years.

He concluded his speech by talking about the latter, outlining how FIFA's reasoning behind the controversial idea – which is being pushed by Arsene Wenger – comes down to a desire to let more people around the world enjoy the best players for "the future of football".

Infantino said: "We see that football is going to a direction where the few have everything and the vast majority have nothing. I understand.

"In Europe, the World Cup happens twice per week because the best players are playing in Europe. In Europe there's no need for additional events, but if we think about the rest of the world, and even in Europe, the vast majority of Europe that doesn't see the best players, that doesn't participate in the top competitions."

But, as he went on to explain ethical dilemmas currently troubling the sport, Infantino's address took a curious turn, suggesting the proposed World Cup changes – and greater inclusion in global football – could make refugees think twice about fleeing Africa for Europe.

He added: "We have to think about what football brings, which goes beyond the sport, because football is about what I was saying at the beginning – it's about opportunities, about hope, about national teams, the country, heart, the joy and emotion. You cannot say to the rest of the world, 'give us your money and if you happen to have a good player, give us the player as well, but you just watch on TV'. We need to include them. We need to find ways to include the entire world, to give hope to Africans so they don't have to cross the Mediterranean in order to, maybe, find a better life but more probably death in the sea.

"We need to give opportunities and we need to give dignity, not by giving charity but by allowing the rest of the world to participate. Maybe a World Cup every two years isn't the answer, [but] we discuss it, debate it."

Several hours later, the Swiss – via a statement released on FIFA's Twitter account – took the opportunity to clarify his comments.

The statement read: "Given that certain remarks made by me before the Council of Europe earlier today appear to have been misinterpreted and taken out of context, I wish to clarify that, in my speech, my more general message was that everyone in a decision-making position has a responsibility to help improve the situation of people around the world.

"If there are more opportunities available, including in Africa, but certainly not limited to that continent, this should allow people to take these opportunities in their own countries.

"This was a general comment, which was not directly related to the possibility of playing a FIFA World Cup every two years."

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