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Matches were politics free so fans could enjoy the football – Infantino

fifa world cup qatar 2022 fifa press conference
FIFA president Gianni Infantino during Friday's press conference

The Qatar World Cup kept political messaging away from the football so that fans could enjoy “a little moment of pleasure and joy”, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said on Friday.

Speaking two days before the final between Argentina and France, Infantino defended FIFA’s decision not to allow teams to display any messages on their shirts or team captains’ armbands.

“It is not about prohibiting. It’s is about respecting regulations,” he told a news conference. “On the field of play we play football.”

“You need to respect the field of play. This is nothing new.”

The World Cup in the desert state had led to a significant amount of political discussion, with some teams voicing concerns about the host’s treatment of migrant labour, its approach to LGBT rights and FIFA’s threats to penalise players for political statements.

Germany’s soccer federation was among the most vocal in pressing for anti-discrimination ‘OneLove’ armbands to be worn by players and said “extreme blackmail” from FIFA and a threat of sanctions led to Germany, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Wales, England and Switzerland abandoning plans to wear them.

Before their surprise opening defeat by Japan, the German team posed for a pre-match photo with their hands on their mouths, alluding to them being silenced by FIFA.

“Maybe everyone has his own problems. They (fans) just want to spend 90 minutes or 100 minutes or 120 minutes with penalties without having to think about anything else. Just enjoying a little moment of pleasure and joy, of emotions,” Infantino said.

“We have to give these people a moment in time where they can forget their problems and enjoy football. Outside of the match everybody can express their views and opinions.”

Infantino said the tournament was the “best World Cup ever” and had shown the cohesive power it had.

Qatar invested a reported $200 billion in the tournament but after two weeks had received just over 765,000 visitors.

This fell short of the country’s expectations for a total influx of 1.2 million during the month-long event with a surge in visitors not materialising in the second half of the tournament, and with empty seats at almost every game. Read full story

Infantino said overall the tournament, which ends with the final on Sunday, had so far been a success, having attracted a total of 1.7 million people in the fan zones, with some 80,000 fans attending those areas daily.

Average attendance also stood at 52,000 per match, some 5,000 more spectators than at the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

In total, Infantino said, some 3.27 million spectators –domestic and international — were recorded with two matches still remaining. The total figure for the entire tournament in 2018 was 3.03 million.

“It was very, very successful, but touch wood, two matches to go,” he said. “Focus until the end and then we will of course confirm these feelings that we have now.”

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