Sunday 15 October 2023, 18:00

FIFA President tells IOC Session sport is most “powerful tool to unite people”

  • Gianni Infantino tells 141st International Olympic Committee Session political neutrality of sport must be protected

  • “Every sports event” is a chance to “bring people together and to unite”

  • FIFA President welcomes “fantastic” opportunity to speak to other global sports leaders in Mumbai, India

FIFA President Gianni Infantino has told the 141st International Olympic Committee (IOC) Session sport must retain its political neutrality and be the standard-bearer of global unity in a world of “extreme aggression and division”. Speaking on the first of the two-day gathering of Olympic and sports leaders in Mumbai, India, Mr Infantino put forward the outline of a two-year proposal to the IOC, and stated sport should be the motor for bringing the people of the world together. “This is a time of division, of extreme aggression and division around the world, and we need occasions to unite, to bring people together. There’s no more powerful tool than sport to unite the people. Now we have to protect the autonomy of sport: the political neutrality of sport, and to protect the values of sport. “And in this respect, I think it is important – especially in this divided world – that we see every sports event: of course, the Olympic Games but also every world championship, World Cup as an occasion to bring people together and to unite and to give our contribution to that.”

Under Mr Infantino’s presidency, FIFA has been at the vanguard of using football to effect positive social change, notably under the “Football Unites the World” slogan that highlighted a wealth of social causes at both the FIFA World Cup 2022™ and the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023™.

FIFA has also sought to bring the beautiful game to the doorstep of more and more people around the planet. India, now the world’s most populous nation, hosted the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup™ last year – the country’s first global women’s football tournament – while Indonesia is set to become the first south-east Asian nation to stage a FIFA event when it hosts the FIFA U-17 World Cup™ next month. The expanded FIFA World Cup 26™ will see 48 teams compete across the three host nations, Canada, Mexico, and the USA. The 2030 men’s tournament is set to be co-hosted by three countries on two continents – Morocco, Portugal and Spain – with matches also being played in Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay subject to the completion of a successful bidding process conducted by FIFA and a decision by the FIFA Congress in 2024.

Mr Infantino called on leaders in other sports to mirror the global unifying spirit of such tournaments in order to set the example for global society to follow. “I know that there are decisions which are not easy to take: difficult decisions. But in taking these decisions, we always have to obstruct any political stance. Sometimes even personal positions and opinions, and put the values of sport on top. So, we have to avoid populism, we have to avoid demagogy, and we have to embrace our values which have made the history of all of our sports in the last hundred or more years. Respect, tolerance, inclusion, no discrimination, and unity, even if this is sometimes not so easy. “But we have to continue to do that especially for the young athletes, young sports women and men and for their futures. You were saying: ‘We are not united.’ Well, how can we say to the world to try to be a little bit more united. So, it starts from the sport, and it should really continue on that path and this is my plea and my appeal to all of you. Thanking all of you for your leadership in this area.”