“You can say no out loud, but then what?”
KNVB Chairman Just Spee (58) says it like it is. During the World Cup, he argued several times with FIFA coach Gianni Infantino. The OneLove captain’s armband, promoted by KNVB, turned out to be so controversial in Qatar that Infantino personally created it. Spee says that led to a lot of feelings and misunderstandings behind the scenes. “Look, Gianni, I said at one point: football is being played now, we can’t keep busy. But we have to talk about this after the tournament.”
This reconciliation talk took place in Paris last week and brought the worst out of the cold, according to a photo released by FIFA that shows Spee and Infantino happily. Spee: “For us, this was not the end of the discussion, but rather the beginning. We agreed that this was not the way we should work together. The passion belongs in the field, not in the boardroom. It is clear that at OneLove we are talking about each other: in the future We need to talk better and more often.”
Is this realistic? Before the World Cup, FIFA did not even properly respond to messages about OneLove and about the situation of migrant workers.
“The world is sometimes more complicated than we think in our small country. Infantino’s position has not been easy. He had to take into account what Qatar, the big sponsors, want. That doesn’t change the fact that we didn’t expect things to turn out that way with OneLove. The signs were The former is really different.”
Next week, Infantino’s re-election as FIFA president is on the agenda for a conference in Rwanda. Do you support him?
“Yes, I made that commitment to Infantino. In addition, I indicated that we want more attention to human rights, a better relationship with the European federations and improvements to the way FIFA is governed, which is something Infantino has logical ideas about. He also has no credible opponent. You can say no out loud, but then what? Now you’re on the table, you keep making an impact. That’s what Dutch football is best for.”
The KNVB is backing the president who reformed FIFA after it fell prey to barely concealed corruption under Sepp Blatter. But Infantino himself is not indisputable either. He caused a stir when he consistently described the World Cup in Qatar as the “greatest” tournament ever, when hundreds, if not thousands, of workers were killed in its creation.
The Swiss seem to take pleasure in surrounding themselves with controversial world leaders. After the 2018 World Cup, he received the Medal of Honor from Vladimir Putin, which Infantino did not return after invading Ukraine. Relations between Infantino and Saudi Crown Prince Bin Salman are remarkably warm. The rich oil dictatorship is said to be keen to host the 2030 World Cup.
Nor does Infantino escape rapprochement with Iran, as happened on the eve of the World Cup. It says a lot about the role the Swiss have played in the seven years since he took office. According to him, football can bring about change even in the most unfree countries. Critics say the football world is “washing out the sport” in this way. Controversial systems make beautiful decorations for the outside world through football.
What does Spy think of that? “Championship in Iran is going far as far as I am concerned, so let that be clear. In the case of Saudi Arabia too, you might be wondering if we can start playing football there now. But there may come a time when the international football world chooses to do so.” So big that it can create social change, and FIFA takes on that role. Then sometimes you end up in difficult situations.”
Do you want to support this as a Dutch association? The options seem to be getting more and more extreme.
“It is an illusion to think that tournaments are only held in Scandinavia or the Benelux. But to put things in perspective: the next men’s World Cup is in Canada, Mexico and the US, the women’s World Cup is in Australia and New Zealand. Saudi Arabia is not even an official candidate for the 2030 men’s World Cup. Spain, Portugal and a number of South American countries do.
Something is still going on. Infantino turned away from Europe in a controversial speech ahead of the World Cup. Ignore all criticism from here.
“I thought that went too far and I told him so. Holland is an important country for football, and our criticism is heard. At the same time, we are not alone in the call, FIFA has 211 members. This does not mean that we should not express our opinions, but the days of getting our way It’s always really gone; this World Cup has proven it. We’ll have to accept that.”
He. She The story says Now that the Tourism Council of Saudi Arabia, where women have far fewer rights than men, has sponsored the Women’s World Cup. So should we just accept that?
“First of all, I don’t think it’s fun for Australia and New Zealand, who also want to attract tourists. Looking at human rights, we don’t think that’s a good sign. But Saudi Arabia advertises in more places. As long as the message they can deliver doesn’t restrict Dutch players, I guess it’s up to that. I’m not thrilled, but it’s FIFA’s choice.”
Speaking of the World Cup, it starts in July. Do you know if FIFA is now giving permission to OneLove?
No. I also think we need to get rid of the idea that it’s either OneLove or nothing. During the World Cup, players also wore bands with words like “respect” and “no discrimination”. In the Netherlands, but there may be another, more effective avenue abroad. It is important that we talk better about that with FIFA this time.”
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