Fifa president Infantino claims biennial World Cup could save African migrants from 'death in sea'

The FIFA president's comments have been criticised by refugee charities and football's equality and inclusion organisation, ITV News Correspondent Geraint Vincent reports

Fifa president Gianni Infantino has said his plans to hold the World Cup every two years could stop African migrants from crossing the Mediterranean and suffering "death in the sea".

His comments, made during an address on Wednesday to the Council of Europe, a transnational organisation dedicated to human rights, have been condemned as "disgusting" and "completely unacceptable".

During his speech, the president of football's governing body spoke about the global benefits of Fifa's plans to reform the international calendar and suggested that countries outside of Europe need more opportunities to access football competitions to give them "hope".

He told delegates: “We need to give hope to Africans so they don’t need to cross the Mediterranean in order to find, maybe, a better life but more probably death in the sea.

“We need to give opportunities and we need to give dignity, not by giving charity but by allowing the rest of the world as well to participate.

"Maybe the World Cup every two years is not the answer. We discuss it."

Fifa president Gianni Infantino's comments to the Council of Europe:

The Fifa president was explaining to the assembly why his organisation wanted to hold more international competitions, as part of his strategy known as the Future of Football.

After being called out for his remarks, he later issued a clarification and said they “appear to have been misinterpreted and taken out of context”.

The executive director of Football Supporters Europe, Ronan Evain, said Infantino is “not fit to run global football".

Mr Evain wrote on Twitter: "How low can Infantino go? Instrumentalising death in the Mediterranean to sell his megalomaniac plan is beyond words...

"Disgusting. He is not fit to run global football."

Tony Burnett, chief executive of Kick It Out, a charity campaigning for equality in football, said Infantino's comments were “completely unacceptable”, "uneducated" and "clumsy".

Mr Burnett said Fifa is a "multi-billion profit-making organisation" and if it has a "genuine commitment to tackling inequality, they should be investing time and resource into charitable causes on the ground, rather than disguising what appears to be a profit-making biennial World Cup as the answer to any existing problems".

He added: “The notion that you can use a World Cup tournament to stop people who are fleeing persecution and often war is just bizarre and just shows a complete lack of knowledge of the subject matter he is talking about."

In a statement, Infantino later sought to clarify his remarks and said in a statement: “Given that certain remarks made by me before the Council of Europe earlier today appear to have been misinterpreted and taken out of context, I wish to clarify that, in my speech, my more general message was that everyone in a decision-making position has a responsibility to help improve the situation of people around the world.

“If there are more opportunities available, including in Africa, but certainly not limited to that continent, this should allow people to take these opportunities in their own countries.

“This was a general comment, which was not directly related to the possibility of playing a Fifa World Cup every two years.”

Despite Infantino’s attempts to outline the benefits to global football, the Council concluded that biennial World Cups would be “disastrous” for the sport in Europe.

Infantino’s remarks come just a day after Middlesex cricket chair Mike O’Farrell apologised over comments he made to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee that appeared to make generalisations about people from the Afro-Caribbean and South Asian communities.

Former cricketer Azeem Rafiq - who blew the whistle on the racist abuse he suffered at Yorkshire - slammed Mr O'Farrell's remarks as "hurtful".

Mr O'Farrell told a committee: “57% of the players we have at under-17 come from culturally diverse backgrounds.

“As we move up the chain, particularly as we get to the academy, we then find it becomes more difficult for several reasons.

“The football and rugby world becomes much more attractive to the Afro-Caribbean community.

"And in terms of the South Asian community there’s a moment where we’re finding that they do not want to commit necessarily the same time that is necessary to go to the next step because they prefer - not always saying they do it - they prefer to go into other educational fields where cricket becomes secondary."

Mr O’Farrell’s comments were taken to be generalisations of whole communities and Rafiq told ITV News: "They try and say that black kids are going toward football and rugby and Asian kids want to study.

"It's hurtful actually, it makes me really angry.

"But it just shows you, if they're prepared to say that in a public forum with the scrutiny we're at, how far removed from reality they are and what they will be doing privately."

Commenting on the cricket chair's comments, Kick It Out's Mr Burnett said: “I think it shows a glaring lack of awareness from leaders in sports across the piece actually, not just Infantino today, but we saw similar comments on a different scale yesterday in cricket.

“I think our global leaders, the leaders in our sports industries need to step up and need to educate themselves on global issues.”