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Today (Sunday 10 February) FIFA President Gianni Infantino made an historic address to the 32nd Ordinary Assembly of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. His speech to the African Union, which is made up of 55 countries and chaired by President of the Republic of Rwanda Paul Kagame, followed that of Bill Gates, representing the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and marked the first time that any FIFA President had spoken before the Union.
Speaking to the Assembly Gianni Infantino said: “Africa is a continent that has always been very close to my heart. I have fond memories of watching the FIFA World Cup 1982 in Spain, when Cameroon quite seriously challenged my home team Italy, and when Algeria defeated West Germany before West Germany made it to the final against Italy, who won the competition. Football fans around the world were convinced that the African teams would soon reach the level of the best European teams. I’m sad to say that almost 40 years later African teams haven’t been able to make this shift and to reach the final stages of a FIFA World Cup, despite their impressive performances during the FIFA World Cups 2002 and 2010, and more recently during the FIFA World Cup Russia. This situation must change because of the great passion your continent has for football. Quite simply put, Africa lives football!”
During his speech the FIFA President discussed the 2026 FIFA World Cup and received an enthusiastic reaction from the Assembly on the expansion of the number of African teams participating in it, which will increase from five in 2018 to 9.5 in 2026.
President Infantino was keen to stress the importance of football giving back to Africa during his address saying: “I believe that just as Africa gives so much of its passion and positivity to football that football can give back to Africa and help the continent’s people in key areas: economic growth, education, gender mainstreaming, integration and football governance.
Speaking about the first pillar, economic growth, he referred to the importance of infrastructural development, and how FIFA is also developing infrastructure with the revenues from the World Cup which have seen investments of 110 million USD every year in new pitches, competitions and football facilities in Africa.
Referring to education Gianni Infantino highlighted some key features relating to FIFA’s Football for Schools initiative by stating: “This project is about life skills, not football skills. We are excited about our Football for Schools project, which will provide a great platform to educate children – through football, as football is not just a sport but also a way of living. The implementation of the Football for Schools projects will go a long way on furthering social values and promoting safer and better lifestyles for millions of children around the globe and I call on you all here to support us in this endeavour and to be part of this culture for change.”
Infantino then spoke about football’s ability to help equality and empower people, in particular girls and women, saying: “Gender Equality is an issue that we must take seriously and I’m certain you will all be championing the three African teams participating in this summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup taking place in France. At the new FIFA we are determined to change and our own Secretary General Fatma Samoura was the first woman to take up this role in 2016, the first time a woman ever held this role in the 112-year history of FIFA. She is a shining example of the skills and competencies of Africa.”
Speaking about the pillar five, integration, Infantino referred to the African Union’s theme for 2019, integration of refugees, and underlined football’s role as a universal and unifying language, that brings people from all around the world together, sharing and enjoying the same game.
Gianni Infantino then spoke about his belief that by joining forces, the African Union and FIFA could strengthen football even more in Africa via a partnership that would focus both organisations’ expertise, resources and networks on Football for Schools. It would also allow both parties the opportunity to work together on issues like corruption and match fixing.
FIFA President Infantino said: “We cannot afford for this beautiful game of ours to be poisoned by corruption. We have a mission to protect the integrity of our sport and FIFA reiterates its willingness to work with all of you to root corruption out of African football. By partnering with the African Union. We would also have the ability to share our expertise on matters like stadium construction and security across Africa, ensuring that stadia are properly constructed and equipped following best practice, ensuring safety of venues and fans attending sports competitions.”
In closing his historic address, Gianni Infantino underlined the tremendous potential Africa has ahead of it and his belief that by working hand in hand, FIFA and the African Union can accomplish real and positive change and build a sustainable future for generations to come.