A better football
Inas Mazhar, Tuesday 9 Jun 2020
FIFA is looking for a clearer global shape for the world’s most popular sport, reports Inas Mazhar

As the lockdown continues worldwide and sport remains suspended because of Covid-19, many international sports federations have been taking the opportunity to think of new forms for the development of the future of their sports. FIFA, the world’s governing body in football, has been one sports organisation trying to navigate the future. As a matter of fact, it is the leader.

Football has been suspended worldwide since March as a result of the outbreak of the coronavirus. Many national leagues have been cancelled or put onhold, while other football championships scheduled to be held in 2020 have been delayed until further notice.

Recently, a few countries in Europe re-started their football leagues under certain safety precautions. The situation is still unclear in other continents about when football will return. Some announcements from some countries say the return could be by mid-June, including Egypt, which has so far announced that only training will resume gradually starting mid-June and under certain conditions. However, the decision to re-start its domestic competition has not been confirmed,with some clubs announcing they will not participate if the league comes back.

Continental football confederations are also doing their best to rescue the game from financial losses.

In the midst of such uncertainty FIFA says it is determined to find ways “to shape a better football for the future” as the message appeared on its official website.

FIFA will organise a series of online discussions with all member associations and other stakeholders in order to debate and assess proposals that might contribute to a clearer picture.

In a video message earlier this week to FIFA’s 211 member associations, which was recorded in six languages – English, Spanish, French, German, Portuguese and Italian – FIFA President Gianni Infantino revealed that ongoing consultation and serious work done by FIFA’s administration had led to a financial relief plan “to benefit all of football” and which is meanwhile entering the final phase of preparation with the objective of being presented in the upcoming FIFA Council meeting, and that international match calendar discussions are closer to “a balanced solution”.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Infantino has acknowledged several times that the health of footballers was his main priority. He continues to stress the need to put health first as football gradually looks to restart across the world around the pandemic, and he highlighted the great efforts made by FIFA and the football community to protect the wellbeing of all participants.

According to FIFA.com, he also recognised that a route back to the stadiums for spectators will also need to be managed because football is not the same without fans, but that this should be made in a safe and responsible way that also follows guidelines and instructions of governments and health authorities.

Infantino began by hoping that footballers’ families and friends are safe, well and healthy.

“Even if we are distant, we remain one team, and united we support those who have been suffering during this difficult time.

“You have seen the medical recommendations we issued last week to support a roadmap for the restart of competitions, which always keep in mind the most important principle: Health comes first! Also the possibility you have now to opt for five substitutions has the same purpose: protect the health — in this case of our players,” the FIFA president added.

According to Infantino, maintaining public health is urgently needed while not forgetting the wellbeing of players, officials and everyone who participates in any football activity. He said he trusted the judgement of football associations working with their countries’ governments and health authorities based on the WHO risk assessment tool and FIFA guidelines.

“Football is already underway or about to restart in several countries. This brings us, and all the football fans across the globe, some hope for the future. However, we also have to understand and respect different decisions, especially from those among us who still need more time to be sure that a restart can be done in a way that is safe for everyone. Tolerance and understanding are important, especially these days,” he said, confirming that FIFA supports everyone.

He said there isn’t one right answer. “Each country is different with different contexts and no one better than you knows the best way to deal with this enormous challenge.

“And, let’s not forget that there needs always to be a place for fans. Football without spectators is clearly not the same, but we need to be patient when considering the right time to bring fans back to the stadiums. We will continue to work tirelessly, but also discretely and respectfully, to move beyond these temporary measures, and to ensure that fans are welcomed back in a safe and responsible way,” he added.

Infantino talked about the importance of working in solidarity. “It is a time to work together, to share experiences and to help one another. It is through this solidarity that we will also find the solutions to shape a better football for the future,” he told FIFA members, urging them not to forget other sectors of support while focusing on club football.

“The need for top club football to resume has understandably taken priority, but we must also consider national teams, women’s football, lower-tier domestic leagues, youth and the grassroots game. We have to show unity across all aspects of football and make sure football can resume in its globality. This is our priority and our financial relief plan will also follow this principle.

“We are developing a system which is manageable, but also needs-based. We want the financial relief plan to have a broad reach that includes women’s football and that operates in a modern, efficient and transparent way. This means having a robust governance structure, which also ensures accountability on how the financial sums will be allocated.

“If we can take out one positive element from this situation, it is certainly that thanks to you and through FIFA, football has definitively created an active and healthy channel for dialogue and discussion on all aspects of our sport. I firmly believe that our future can only be shaped by discussing it with you, the Member Associations of FIFA. Because you are FIFA. And we cannot and will not take decisions in some back door meetings amongst a small group of people. These times are definitely over! Now it’s your turn. And we want to listen to your views on important topics such as the future international match calendar and the competitions and how can we better harmonise the calendar and the competitions between continents as football is becoming more and more global.

“On the financial and governance aspects, I also heard some interesting proposals on a wide range of topics. From salary caps to transfer fee caps or other taxation mechanisms, to the possible obligation for governing bodies, competition organisers and clubs to build reserves or to contribute to a reserve fund which can be of assistance in hours of need such as now.”

Infantino wrapped up his video message by saying that he personally advocates for clearer and stricter financial regulations, imposing full transparency and good governance principles, and not only limiting this to the transfer system, but to the entire football ecosystem.

“FIFA is doing already a lot of work on this area, even if we face some strong vested interests which fight against our plea for a better global governance in our sport. I know that this is something that will spark intense debate, but debate is healthy, and we should speak about it all together — as we stand together during this difficult period.”

*A version of this article appears in print in the 11 June, 2020 edition ofAl-Ahram Weekly