Fifa presidential candidate Gianni Infantino’s plan for an expanded 40-team World Cup came under a lot of fire from two of his rivals as the campaign to secure the top job at the tainted organisation heated up on Thursday.
Four of the five candidates to replace Sepp Blatter in the February 26 election in Zurich gave presentations to members of the CONCACAF confederation, which governs the sport in North and Central America and the Caribbean, at an airport hotel in Miami.
Normally such meetings take place behind closed doors but CONCACAF officials allowed the media into the room for a rare taste of how the Fifa candidates make their pitch to the electorate -- the heads of national football federations.
The protocol in such occasions is usually for candidates to avoid public criticism of each other.
UEFA general secretary Infantino’s plan to create eight new spots in the World Cup was attacked by both Asian Football Confederation president Sheikh Salman Bin Ebrahim Al Khalifa and former Fifa deputy general secretary Jerome Champagne, however.
Salman gave a powerpoint presentation of his manifesto and when he discussed Fifa’s biggest tournament, the words on the screen read “Promises of more World Cup spots during an election period are unprofessional”.
The Bahraini said any changes should be well explained and gain broad support before being introduced.
Champagne was sharper in his condemnation of Infantino’s proposal.
“My programme is not smoke and mirrors,” the Frenchman said. “They are facts and not the kind of projects that are being thrown around like organising a World Cup with 40 teams when we know that is not the central issue for 150 federations around the world.
“We know that organising a World Cup with 32 teams is already so costly and so difficult. We know also that the international calendar is so complicated,” he added.
Infantino defended his plan.
“Eight more countries would be in World Cup fever,” he said. “It would boost the competition and commercially it means more teams, more matches, more revenue”.
The Swiss’s proposal to massively increase the money Fifa gives to individual federations for development and other projects was also criticised by Salman.
Infantino says he will ensure that half of Fifa’s entire revenue will be distributed to federations with five million dollars over four years for each member association as well as $40 million over the same period for the regional confederations.
“Whenever there is an election we hear a lot of promises ... we have to be realistic in what we can achieve and what we can do,” said Salman, who said cash should be targeted at those who needed it most.
“Does Japan, China or Saudi Arabia need financial support? I don’t think so. When we look at countries around the world, you can look at countries like Germany, the U.K. or even the United States, I think they don’t need it as much as the smaller countries do.”
Infantino also hit back at those who suggested his plan to distribute more resources was simply an election tactic.
“I was criticised when I made these proposals, they said ‘Ah, you are trying to buy votes’,” he said.
“I am not buying anything. It is not my money, it is your money. Fifa’s money is your money, the national associations’ money.”