Football-Gianni Infantino
Fifa president Gianni Infantino struck a chord in his keynote address when he wanted football to spread the message of unity. Image Credit: Supplied photo

Dubai: Fifa President Gianni Infantino made a strong case for a truly unified and single-minded post-pandemic revival of the sport.

“This is a special year where we are all united and re-united due to a tiny virus. Perhaps, that was needed as we could afford to take a break and rethink and re-focus on priorities before us to take our sport further and in the right direction. I am convinced that we are headed in the correct direction,” Infantino said in his keynote address at the 15th edition of the Dubai International Sports Conference, at the foot of the Burj Khalifa, late on Sunday.

Paying special tribute to two of football’s great legends – Diego Armando Maradona and Paolo Rossi – Infantino called on the footballing world to “cherish special moments” left by such great exponents of football for generations to come.

“Let us remember them and cherish what they have left behind for all of us. They made a difference and we ought to make some difference as well. It is a very special year. We had the blasts in Beirut, Lebanon and then everything stopped due to the pandemic. And that made us realise that there is something that is more important than football, and that is our health and well-being,” Infantino reminded.

We started showing concern as a small virus put the entire world on the backfoot. Everything stopped, including football. We have to thank all those who have been fighting on our behalf

- Gianni Infantino. Fifa president

“We started showing concern as a small virus put the entire world on the backfoot. Everything stopped, including football. We have to thank all those who have been fighting on our behalf. And as we take a step back, we realise that football can give a message of unity, solidarity and hope as our world limps back to normal,” he urged.

Infantino had a special message to footballers during this special time. “At the moment, you are all playing in front of empty stadiums and that is not the best feeling. But you should remember that there are millions who are watching you [on television and other platforms] and getting inspired by you and your feats and achievements. I am hopeful that spectators will safely return to stadiums in the new year,” he added.

Earlier this year, Fifa’s ruling council unanimously approved a $1.5 billion (Dhs 5.5 billion) COVID-19 Relief Plan for its 211 member associations to help the global football community weather the coronavirus pandemic. Infantino handed out $ one million to each of its members in July while the rest will be allocated sometime early in 2021.

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“This period has given us the opportunity to think about the future of our sport. We need to reach out to the less fortunate and we need to keep the flame of football burning. There is a possibility to think about the future of the game, and may be we need to start re-considering the way we run our sport,” Infantino suggested.

“We need to protect the legends and the players. May be we need to look again at the formats of our competitions and the national teams. May be we need to re-look at the long competitions and the short ones too. We need to reduce travel and preserve health. We need to start questioning what we have been doing for the past 20, 30 or 40 years,” he urged.

“The world wants more excitement. Our youngsters may be striving for different types of competition perhaps and this will be the challenge for 2021,” Infantino noted.

The Fifa president pressed further for a total unification of football with equal opportunities to all, especially the youth and the generation to follow.

“Football is truly global, and that is why we are here in Dubai today. Our vision is to make football truly global. And even though it is global, we need to admit that it is concentrated in a few countries. We need a new thinking whereby we can renew the face of football, wherein we organise, generate and distribute revenues evenly through the world. This is what we need to do, and we ought to do this better,” he stressed.

“Football is a team sport. We need the top and we also need the whole team to ensure we all win. We need to bring in hope,” Infantino added.