FIFA will find itself caught up in the international furore surrounding Saudi Arabia later this week when president Gianni Infantino calls to order the autumn gathering of the world football federation’s governing council.
The most intriguing agenda for Friday’s meeting in Kigali, Rwanda, concerns the future of the club world championship and the projected global Nations League plus an associated commercial strategy.
Early this year Infantino informed the council of a confidential approach from a consortium willing to invest $25bn in a controlling stake of an expanded Club World Cup and a worldwide copy of European federation UEFA’s Nations League.
Infantino told the council that the issue was so confidential he needed members’ trust to continue negotiations without revealing any more details. European members of the council objected both then and at a further council meeting on the eve of the World Cup in Russia in June.
It is understood that the consortium is being developed through the Japanese investment conglomerate Softbank with significant financial input from Saudi Arabia.
Transparency gap – UEFA directors were concerned both by the lack of transparency concerning the approach as well as by the concept of selling control of two major competitions – even before the existence of the competitions had been formulated for approval. European officials are also unhappy with the pirating of Champions League broadcasts in the Middle East and North Africa by a Saudi-based channel calling itself BeoutQ. Its aim is to undermine the TV rights contracted to the Qatari BeIN Sports.
The negative publicity surrounding Saudi Arabia – under pressure internationally over its bombing of Yemen, domestic human rights issues and the embassy killing of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey – threatens to prove a severe embarrassment for Infantino and FIFA in terms of timing.
FIFA Council is also due to discuss plans by the Spanish league to stage a La Liga match later this season in the United States.
** CONMEBOL, the South American confederation, has removed Uruguay’s Wilmar Valdez as a delegate to FIFA Council after his resignation as national FA president and proposed Claudio Tapia, of Argentina, on an interim basis.
** Gabriele Gravina has been elected new president of the Italian FIGC in succession to Carlo Tavecchia who quit in November 2017 after the failure to qualify for the World Cup finals.