I regret to inform you that ahead of the women’s World Cup final this weekend, Fifa president Gianni Infantino has made another one of his public statements. You may recall that at the start of the men’s World Cup in Qatar last November, Infantino addressed “the west” – a hilariously self-effacing gesture that puts me in mind of a video that the actor Richard Gere once released on the eve of some Palestinian elections. “Hi, I’m Richard Gere,” this began, “and I’m speaking for the entire world.” Infantino was also covering a lot of bases last year in Qatar, declaring: “Today I have strong feelings. Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel a migrant worker.” Oh dear.
Anyway, in the early hours of this morning, two days before England meet Spain in the final of a World Cup that has seen rapturous engagement, and record attendance and global viewing figures, Infantino announced he was addressing “all the women”.
If you’re a woman and happened not to be listening, here’s an excruciating readout of his thoughts: “And I say to all the women – and you know I have four daughters, so I have a few at home – I say to all the women, that you have the power to change. Pick the right battles. Pick the right fights. You have the power to change. You have the power to convince us men what we have to do and what we don’t have to do. You do it. Just do it. With men, with Fifa, you will find open doors. Just push the doors. They are open.” What can you say? Other than: sorry, but I believe they’re trying to play quite an important football match. Any chance YOU could get the door? After all, it is your actual job.
We’ll come back and unpack the old idiot’s statement in a bit, on the basis that it could do with a few minutes’ fumigation. But speaking of people doing their actual job, you may also have seen that FA president Prince William will not be turning up to England’s first World Cup final since 1966. Apparently HRH has to think of his carbon footprint (he’s literally jetting to New York for an environmental event next month). Rishi Sunak also won’t make the trip – not a sentence one would expect to be typing had the men’s side made it to the final.
Meanwhile, and ominously, Manchester United are waiting till their players in the Lionesses squad get back from the World Cup so they can run their decision by them about whether or not to reinstate Mason Greenwood, following the dropping of attempted rape, assault, and controlling and coercive behaviour charges against the player. (The audio recording on which those charges were partly based is still available for anyone who can stomach listening.)
Several United women’s players are reported to have had deep reservations about any Greenwood return – but look, no spoilers. I’m sure none of us can imagine what the Old Trafford guys have ended up deciding! And very good of them to trail this decision on the same day last week that England won their semi-final, presumably not caring that they might suck some oxygen away from that triumph.
The club have now said they will delay announcing the decision till after the World Cup final – so if England do pull off a historic victory, please enjoy its swift demotion from the front pages as the Greenwood shitshow makes landfall. In related news, it was also encouraging to see Greenwood’s toxic fandom specifically targeting female United and England players online this week, warning them to back Greenwood’s return.
All in all, it’s hard not to feel that England approach the biggest game of their lives in what some may judge to be a familiar position: getting let down by a selection of useless men. Of course, it’s not just English female players being let down by Infantino, to whose grating statement we must now return. “We have to start treating men and women, or women and men, in the same way,” gibbered the Fifa president, who will be paying out around a third of the men’s prize money in the women’s tournament.
As for the bit about having a few women himself back at home, I guess we have to thank Gianni for yet again flagging himself up as part of the “as a father of daughters” brigade. These are the ones who think they’re explaining in words you can understand that they have a vested interest in bad things not happening to women and girls. What they don’t realise is they are actually explaining that they can only care about really basic rights if they have a vested interest. One should always thank these chaps graciously for the red-flag warning about their personality type, and move swiftly on.
Quite how committed Papa Infantino is to the women’s tournament remains unclear. He reportedly flew on the Fifa jet to Tahiti for a good portion of this World Cup (having also spent time there before the tournament), returning only for the later stages. In contrast, the little people – the fans – were urged by Infantino to “do the right thing” and fill stadiums. It’s possible he was in a South Pacific tiki bar when he said it, but so what?
He has now returned to Sydney to say some more things, seemingly waiting for long-stemmed roses to be thrown on stage. “I’m sorry but Fifa was right,” ran his Friday assessment. “Fifa was right. As it happens quite often in the last years, Fifa was right once more.” Was it? I suppose Fifa was marginally more right than it was at the last women’s World Cup, when it deliberately scheduled the biggest women’s game in the four-year cycle on the same day as both the Copa América final and the Concacaf Gold Cup final. Furthermore, Fifa scheduled the women’s final as the earlier match, effectively casting it as the undercard fixture. In the lead-up to that 2019 tournament, Infantino noted that “this virus of women’s football will spread”. Virus-based compliments rather went out of fashion the following year.
For many involved in the women’s game, the day when Infantino himself falls out of fashion cannot come soon enough. In the meantime, though, it’s worth noting that women’s football has dragged itself to where it is today, despite what has often felt like Fifa’s best efforts to keep it in its place. Women’s tournaments have often dazzlingly succeeded in spite of Infantino’s organisation, rather than because of it. The suits might be turning up for the glory now, but an awful lot of the “right battles” needed to be fought against Fifa itself – and still do.
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