There was a great deal of activity in the corridors of the elegant FIFA hotels in Rwanda. In the many discussions about the delicate handling of the almost untouchable Gianni Infantino, the German Football Association found a clear answer for the first time after a long struggle.
"The DFB will not support the re-election of FIFA President Gianni Infantino in Kigali," said DFB President Bernd Neuendorf - knowing that the re-election of the Swiss at the election congress of the World Football Association on Thursday (8:00 a.m.CET) was only a matter of form remains.
"FIFA must be much more open and transparent in its dealings with the national associations," Neuendorf demanded. "In your own interest, you should explain how and why certain decisions are made and who was involved in them. That has not always been the case recently."
Parallel to the DFB announcement, Infantino inaugurated the "Pelé Stadium" in Kigali in the blue T-shirt with the number 9 in honor of the deceased Brazilian icon - there was choreographed clapping from the stands. With no opposition candidates, Infantino can hope for re-election by applause, as he did four years ago - the opposition is limited to parts of Europe.
Neuendorf stressed that he was interested in a "critical and constructive dialogue with FIFA, especially with its president". The DFB boss, who was snubbed by Infantino together with other Europeans in the "One Love" dispute at the World Cup in Qatar, knows about the dependencies. In the coming year, the Women's World Cup 2027 will be awarded, for which the DFB will also apply.
Infantino enjoys broad support
The European criticism of Infantino, against whom two special public prosecutors in Switzerland are investigating an opaque judicial affair, is not shared in large parts of the football world. On the contrary, Infantino knows the enthusiastic support of the majority of the 211 FIFA members. At the 2019 electoral congress in Paris, it was Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim Al Khalifa who suggested confirming the Swiss with warm applause instead of a vote. Three years earlier, the Bahraini was their toughest competitor in what was supposed to be a fresh start after the FIFA scandal years.
Infantino has continuously expanded his power since 2016 and the replacement of Joseph Blatter, who was already suspended. Infantino mastered the World Cup, which was awarded to Qatar before his term in office, with great pandering to the host country. The busy Swiss man maintains excellent relations with Saudi Arabia, which would also like to organize a final round. The fact that this is applauded in the FIFA world instead of being viewed critically by human rights organizations is mainly due to the big money.
From 2019 to 2022, FIFA distributed a good one billion US dollars to its member associations. From 2023 to 2026, the sum for each of the 211 associations is to increase to eight million US dollars. Not included in the expected income of eleven billion for the next World Cup cycle are the expansion plans decided on Tuesday. The number of World Cup matches at the 2026 finals in USA, Canada and Mexico has been increased from 80 to 104. From 2025, the next highlight tournament will be organized with the Club World Cup with 32 teams and promises to be big.
No powerful opposition
So it remains an illusion that a powerful opposition is actually forming in the giant FIFA, in which the vote from Macau counts as much as that from Germany. Especially since the concerns of the historically successful nations are not shared in sporting matters in the small national associations. A watered-down World Cup with more participants is better for the lower-ranked football countries than one with only the Messis and Musialas of this world - but without them.
"We also have to judge him by his actions," Neuendorf said recently about Infantino. The DFB President will not be elected to the FIFA Council by the Congress of the European Football Union until April. Klaveness followed on this question in the "Sportschau" at the weekend with the rating: "We believe that he missed many opportunities to really implement the changes for which he was elected." On the other hand, support for the incumbent was heard from Switzerland and Austria.
Most recently, Infantino had the Council certify that the first three years of his tenure as FIFA President do not count against the term limit. He could be re-elected again in four years and keep his post until 2031.
The fact that Infantino was by no means able to implement all of his sometimes adventurous plans during his seven years so far was due to the unified resistance from Europe. It was not about human rights and statutes, but again about money. A World Cup every two years or a global Nations League would have jeopardized UEFA's billions in revenue and its own competitions. That's where the fun stops for several officials, only then.
"I have to say we're working together now, even if we hardly communicate with each other," said UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin in a ZDF interview about Infantino. "But we don't have to talk to each other that much either. As long as we don't conflict in terms of content, it's okay. If it's not about European interests, I don't argue with him." When asked if he might not be a suitable challenger in the future, the Slovenian usually replies with a dismissive grin.