FIFA President Gianni Infantino made a historic address to the 32nd Ordinary Assembly of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The African Union (AU), founded in 2002 replacing the Organization of African Unity (OAU), is made up of 55 countries and today’s assembly was chaired by the newly elected chairperson President of Egypt Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi after taking over from President of the Republic of Rwanda Paul Kagame. Infantino’s address 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, to be hosted in Canada, Mexico and the United States, 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 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 organizations’ 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.