Tuesday 24 October 2023, 08:30

FIFA President outlines “mission” to combine power of football and gaming

  • Gianni Infantino says gaming “serves as inspiration” for kids to play football

  • Calls the beautiful game “a real social phenomenon” at New Global Sport Conference in Riyadh

  • Praises technology’s “positive impact” on football at event in Saudi capital

Gianni Infantino has underlined the combined power of football and gaming, telling the New Global Sport Conference in Saudi Arabia he hopes to get "as many children as possible who play eFootball to go out on the pitch and play football with each other." The gaming industry is booming with Saudi Arabia hosting the FIFAe Finals in July where the prize money pot swelled from USD 1.2 million to USD 3 million in recognition of the exponential growth in its worldwide popularity. Building on last year's announcement of its intention to invest USD 37.8 billion to develop the kingdom as a global gaming hub, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on Monday Riyadh would stage an annual Esports World Cup that would boast the largest prize pool in gaming history.

Sitting on a panel alongside Saudi Sports Minister HRH Prince Abdulaziz bin Turki Al Faisal and Cristiano Ronaldo in the Saudi capital, the FIFA President acknowledged that games of football in a stadium and on a screen could benefit both versions of the sport.

"The way I see it, it serves as inspiration, right? You get inspired and then you go out and you want to try to do the same. Now, of course, there is no way you can do the same, but you will keep moving in a sense because all the things you learn in sport, and in football, and in particular, is your resilience: you lose, you want to win the next match, and this is what you can obtain, what you can get when you take these examples, [these] great players who are part of this simulation game as well, as models for children to try to emulate what they do when they play on the screen and put it outside,” he said. "So, I think our mission – also our mission at FIFA, which is why we invest so much in football but also in eFootball – is to combine the two and to make sure that we can get as many children as possible who play eFootball to go out on the pitch and play football with each other." Mr Infantino stated that regardless of the tournament and the prizes on offer, the sense of unity and the emotions created by football competitions are the most important aspects of the sport.

"I can speak about football more than other sports because for me football is something that just actually goes beyond sport. It is a real social phenomenon. Just look at a couple of figures: the last [FIFA] Women’s World Cup had two million viewers in the stadiums and two billion viewers on TV. "The last Men’s [FIFA] World Cup: three million in the stadiums, five billion people watching the [FIFA] World Cup from home. From everywhere. Football is everywhere. We want to make football truly global. So we are welcoming everyone who wants to make football global as well, because it unites. It unites countries. It unites people within a country and brings people together, to know other places and other countries. In today’s world, I think it’s very, very important to have these kinds of occasions." He noted he had recently seen this for himself, witnessing first-hand the passion generated at the opening game of the freshly launched African Football League on Friday: "I was in Tanzania two days ago, I watched a match there between the team of Simba [SC] from Dar es Salaam and a team from Egypt [Al Ahly SC] in the quarter-final of the African Football League. Full stadium, 60,000 people, an incredible atmosphere. “Outside the stadium, another 200,000 people in the fanzone in Dar es Salaam, feeling emotions, strong emotions, jointly, together. We have to foster this, we must use all the tools we have to make this happen."

Mr Infantino also addressed the growing use of technology in football. At the FIFA Congress in Kigali, Rwanda, in March, he outlined his plan to add to the more than 100 countries around the world using Video Assistant Referees (VAR) by introducing less costly variations to enable even more leagues to take advantage of the innovation. "There are still decisions which one or the other doesn’t agree with but the big, big mistakes have disappeared. And this is thanks to technology, thanks to evolution, thanks to artificial intelligence," he said. "It’s becoming better and better, and more and more precise. And whenever technology can help football, the door should be wide open, as far as I’m concerned, to take it, to test it and to see what positive impact it can have."

FIFA President Gianni Infantino during the New Global Sport Conference

Saudi Arabia