“You can say no out loud, but what?”

Gianni Infantino (left) and Just Spee at the World Cup in Qatar.  PNA picture

Gianni Infantino (left) and Just Spee at the World Cup in Qatar.PNA picture

KNVB President Just Spee (58) tells it like it is. During the World Cup, he argued several times with Fifa boss Gianni Infantino. The OneLove captain’s armband, propagated by the KNVB, proved so controversial in Qatar that Infantino personally chose it. This led to a lot of emotion and misunderstanding behind the scenes, Spee says. “Listen Gianni, I said at one point: football is being played now, we can’t deal with it. But we have to talk about it after the tournament.

This reconciliation conversation took place in Paris last week and took the worst of the cold away, according to a photo released by Fifa in which Spee and Infantino pose happily. Spee: “For us, it was not the end of the discussion, but a beginning. We agreed that this was not how we should work together. The passion belongs in the field, not in the boardroom. At OneLove, we have clearly spoken to each other: in the future, we must speak better and more often. »

Is it realistic? Before the World Cup, FIFA didn’t even respond properly to letters about OneLove and the situation of migrant workers.

“The world is sometimes more complex than we think in our small country. Infantino’s position was not easy. We had to take into account what Qatar wanted, the big sponsors. That doesn’t change the fact that we didn’t expect things to go like this with OneLove. The signals before were really different.

Next week, Infantino’s re-election as FIFA president is on the agenda of a congress in Rwanda. Do you support him?

“Yes, I have made that commitment to Infantino. Additionally, I have indicated that we want more attention to human rights, a better relationship with European trade unions and improvements in the way Fifa is ruled, which is something Infantino has sensible ideas about. He also has no credible opponent. You can say no out loud, but so what? Now you’re at the table and you continue to exert influence. is the best for Dutch football.


The KNVB backs the president who reformed Fifa after falling prey to barely concealed corruption under Sepp Blatter. But Infantino himself is also not undisputed. He caused a stir by consistently calling the World Cup in Qatar “the greatest” tournament ever, when hundreds, if not thousands, of workers were killed in its inception.

The Swiss seems to enjoy surrounding himself with controversial world leaders. After the 2018 World Cup, he received a Medal of Honor from Vladimir Putin, which Infantino did not return after invading Ukraine. The ties between Infantino and Crown Prince Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia are remarkably warm. The oil-rich dictatorship is said to be eager to host the 2030 World Cup.

Infantino is also not running away from a rapprochement with Iran, as it turned out on the eve of the World Cup. That says a lot about the role the Swiss has taken on in the seven years since taking office. According to him, football can bring change even in the least free countries. Critics say the football world is “washing the sport” in this way. Controversial regimes are a beautiful decoration to the outside world through football.

What does Spee think? “A tournament in Iran is going too far as far as I’m concerned, let’s be clear. Also in the case of Saudi Arabia, you might be wondering if we can start playing football there now. But there may come a time when the world of international football chooses to do so. Football is so important that it can bring about social change, and FIFA assumes this role. Then you sometimes find yourself in awkward situations.

Should you support this as a Dutch association? The choices seem to be getting more and more extreme.

“It’s an illusion to think that the tournaments only take place in Scandinavia or Benelux. But to put it into perspective: the next men’s World Cup is in Canada, Mexico and the United States, that of the women in Australia and New Zealand Saudi Arabia is not even an official candidate for the 2030 Men’s World Cup.Spain, Portugal and a number of South American countries are.

However, something is happening. Infantino turned away from Europe in a controversial speech ahead of the World Cup. It swept away all the reviews here.

“I thought it was going too far and I told him. The Netherlands is an important football country, our criticisms are heard. At the same time, we are not alone in the call, Fifa has 211 members “That’s not to say we shouldn’t voice our opinion, but the days of always getting our way are really over; this World Cup has proven that. We’re going to have to accept that.”

He the story goes now that Saudi Arabia’s tourist board, where women have far fewer rights than men, is sponsoring the Women’s World Cup. So should we just accept that?

“First of all, I don’t think it’s fun for Australia and New Zealand, which also want to attract tourists. And given human rights, we don’t think that’s a good signal. But Saudi Arabia advertises in more places. As long as it doesn’t limit the Dutch players in the message they can convey, I think it depends on that. I’m not happy, but it’s a FIFA choice.”

Speaking of this World Cup, it starts in July. Do you know if Fifa now allows the OneLove group?

“No. I also think we have to get rid of the idea that it’s either OneLove or nothing. During the World Cup, players also wore bands with words such as ‘Respect’ and ‘No respect’. discrimination”. It’s not even that different from the message of OneLove. This action works well in the Netherlands, but another way can be more effective abroad. It is important that we talk about it better with FIFA this time.

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