The world is politically veering towards unlimited neoliberalism, and football is no exception. Increasingly, FIFA's movements are responding to the interests of big capital and the search for higher returns, while the ball is becoming more and more clearly a mere excuse.
Not only have human rights taken a back seat - if not a third - and major tournaments are being organised in countries that do not meet the lowest standards, but it is becoming increasingly clear that everything is being awarded to the highest bidder.
The key to FIFA's moves is the unnecessarily hasty awarding of the venues for the next two World Cups, 2030 and 2034, to the triple bid of Spain, Portugal, and Morocco in the first case and to Saudi Arabia in the second.
The striking thing about this announcement is that there was a year left to resolve it, and for this, an extraordinary congress was to meet in the last quarter of 2024, made up of representatives of the 211 national federations, which would vote between the two bids, the one that finally won by hand (Spain, Portugal, and Morocco) and the South American bid, made up of Uruguay, Argentina, Paraguay, and Chile. This was based on the fact that it had been precisely one hundred years since the organisation of the first World Cup in Uruguay in 1930 and that the best thing was for the tournament to return, a century later, to where it all began.
But FIFA cannot wait. Business is business, and when it became clear that South America is not in a position to organise a World Cup from the point of view of economy, hotel capacity, and security, what Gianni Infantino, the Italian-Swiss president of football's governing body, did was to give Conmebol the gift of a match on the first day of the first round of a tournament of 48 teams divided into 12 groups: Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, so that the rest of the tournament would be played in Europe and Africa, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
This, which is clearly nonsense, was accepted by Conmebol—until the exclusion of Chile, when FIFA explained that there was no room for four countries without being very clear why - and even celebrated when its leaders said that the World Cup will be played in six venues (when in fact FIFA only accepts three, the European and African ones) and that South America will host the opening match (which is not true because although these three matches will be played first, the opening ceremony will be held later on Spanish territory). Wouldn't it have been more logical for Uruguay to reject this offer and organise a World Cup on its own, like the one in 1980, on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1930 tournament, inviting all the world champions in a tournament with two groups of four teams, having for itself the sale of tickets and TV rights? But nobody dares to say no to FIFA.
But it doesn't end there: FIFA, for 2023, decided to take the U-20 World Cup away from Indonesia for not accepting the participation of the Israeli team on its territory, even though it had achieved a legitimate qualification. Argentina then applied, changed the venue, and Israel was allowed to play and even performed more than creditably. The unusual thing is that just months later, Indonesia ended up hosting the other youth World Cup, the U-17, won by Germany, in which, of course, the Israelis did not participate because they had not qualified.
In other words, what FIFA did was to hide its head like an ostrich: it did not sanction Indonesia but rather took the hot potato out of a political problem and then, when Israel was not there, gave it back to the host country. There are no sanctions on a country that does not admit the national team of another country because it does not like it. The show must go on.
Nor did he give any explanation for awarding Chile the 2025 U20 World Cup, just when it had been excluded from a 2030 World Cup match, in what clearly sounds like a reward for that action. At the time, Infantino explained to the leaders of the Chilean National Professional Football Association (ANFP) that the three 2030 World Cup matches were awarded to Uruguay for having been the host country a century ago, to Argentina for being world champions, and to Paraguay because that country is home to Conmebol's headquarters, but that there was no room for a fourth.
Of course, there is also no open information as to why FIFA is planning to set up its administrative and financial headquarters in the United States, leaving only museums and a few other things at its old headquarters in Zurich. Everything indicates that this change is related to a greater tax exemption in North America, after having been pressured by the Swiss justice system.
Of course, it seems no coincidence that in 2025 the first 32-team Club World Cup will be held in the United States and that the following year the same country, together with Canada and Mexico, will host the 2026 World Cup. If we add the Copa America in the middle of this year, in which it will also be the host country, it is clear what FIFA's profit motive is in these years. A real deal at the highest level.
If this is the case with FIFA, on 21 December the European Court of Justice ruled that UEFA can no longer have a monopoly on the organisation of tournaments in Europe, and this finally opens the door to the powerful clubs themselves being able to institute new championships that they themselves govern, and so it was for years the idea of a Super League, led by Real Madrid, Barcelona and Juventus, although many of the other strong clubs withdrew, in some cases because they considered the project elitist (which in principle was based on invitation and not on sporting merit), such as PSG and Bayern Munich, and in others, because of political pressure from the then British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the "Top Six" (Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal), and from their partners and fans, who did not accept this tournament. In the end, Atlético Madrid, Inter, and Milan stayed away.
However, the Superliga is confident that it will be able to convince the leaders of all the elite to return to the project, especially by making them understand that behind it there is a sponsor such as JP Morgan Bank, with 15,000 million euros to distribute and the possibility of broadcasting all the matches via streaming and free of charge, which would break the television market of the private channels.
UEFA, aware of the frustration of several powerful clubs at playing too few matches with the current Champions League format, modified the tournament so that from 2024/25, instead of eight groups of four teams, it will have four groups of eight, so that each team is guaranteed at least seven European matches, but satiety means that this will not be enough, although nobody thinks about what will happen to the local leagues if there are so many continental matches. What will happen to the clubs from the middle classes downward, condemned to play for a championship in which the strong ones will look to other horizons and put substitutes in those matches?
Worse is the case of the Italian Serie A, which has just found itself with the removal, from the national government of president Giorgia Meloni, of the so-called "Crescita Decree," or "Beckham Law" in the Italian style, by which foreigners under contract, or nationals who were playing abroad for more than two years, paid only a fifty percent tax. That's how Cristiano Ronaldo arrived at Juventus in the 2018/19 season and so many more stars until 2023, but now there will be no favours and everyone will have to pay the same taxes, which for some leaders will be "the death of Calcio", while for the local players' group, it will help clubs - many now American-owned—to turn to home-grown players or their youth divisions after two World Cups without qualification and two others in which the Azzurri failed to make it past the group stage.
As if that were not enough, the new Argentine president, Javier Milei, did not want to leave football in his first tough package of 664 "Necessity and Urgency" decrees and ruled that clubs, which until now are all non-profit companies with presidents voted by the members, should have the possibility of becoming public limited companies, something that was already rejected by the Federation (AFA), as soon as Milei won the elections, as if warning of the situation.
Immediately, Milei said Chelsea was considering buying a club in Argentina, as River Plate and Rosario Central took to the field for the 2023 Champions Trophy, each team holding a banner that read "football has no needs or urgencies," and former Boca Juniors player and idol Juan Román Riquelme, an advocate of the membership club model, defeated former Argentinean president Mauricio Macri and Milei's neoliberal partner by 65 percent in the presidential elections.
Those in power in football want to move decisively into the world of business without caring about anything else, but there are still those who resist and mark the field for them. It remains to be seen if they will manage to stop the ball or if it will advance in an unknown direction.