FIFA meets with women's soccer decisions, anti-racism pledge and retreat from key reforms on agenda

FIFA’s gravest crisis erupted with police raids at its annual meeting in 2015 and nine years later international soccer’s 211 member federations gather this week in Thailand with some of the resulting anti-corruption reforms now in retreat.

During three days of meetings starting Wednesday in Bangkok, international soccer’s governance standards are set to distract from significant decisions in women’s soccer — including picking a 2027 World Cup host — and FIFA pushing its members to do more to tackle racism in stadiums.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino also is scheduled Friday for a first news conference with international media since Saudi Arabia was effectively confirmed last October as host of the men’s 2034 World Cup.

Infantino should get approval at the annual congress earlier Friday for his move to restore a pre-2015 sprawl of committees, giving him the option of awarding hundreds of expenses-paid posts to soccer officials worldwide who vote in the election for FIFA president every four years.

On Thursday, the 47-member Asian Football Confederation plans to abolish term limits for senior elected officials including its president, Sheikh Salman of Bahrain, who would otherwise have to leave in 2027 after 14 years in power.

FIFA, plus its continental bodies, is now showing it seems less bound by reform principles designed in 2015 to be key in repairing a reputational crisis in soccer leadership.

The seven most senior elected roles in the FIFA hierarchy — Infantino and presidents of each of soccer’s six continents — all rose to power since 2013 because their predecessors were ousted, indicted or left while implicated in corruption allegations.

Also Friday, FIFA should give itself the authority later this year to pick two future hosts of the men’s World Cup on the same day. That has echoes of the Dec. 2, 2010 votes that made Russia and Qatar hosts of the 2018 and 2022 tournaments.

This year there will be no contested votes or losers, with opaque deals done that let FIFA announce last October its preferred only candidate for each of the 2030 and 2034 tournaments.

The Spain-Portugal-Morocco co-host plan for 2030 gives a single game to each of Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, which cleared a path for Saudi Arabia to get the 2034 event without opposition.

A contested vote is still expected Friday for the Women’s World Cup in 2027, though Brazil is strongly favored over a combined European bid from neighbors Belgium, Netherlands and Germany.

The United States-Mexico co-host bid withdrew weeks ago to focus on the 2031 hosting vote, due next year. Waiting four more years makes sense when the same two countries, joined by Canada, will host the first 48-team, 104-game men’s World Cup in 2026.

Women’s soccer also has long been promised a Club World Cup and confirmation of that launch could come Wednesday at a meeting of the 37-person FIFA Council chaired by Infantino. The women could get the same Club World Cup format as the men — a larger tournament every four years and a smaller annual event just for continental champions.

Developing women’s soccer and “a prohibition against all forms of discrimination” were key goals of a reform panel created in the 2015 crisis.

The panel’s role was to advise FIFA on structural reforms and cultural changes that would restore trust and faith of fans and commercial partners. Its 15 members included Infantino and Victor Montagliani, who is now a FIFA vice president and president of the North American soccer body CONCACAF.

The panel’s advisory document, including 12-year presidential term limits and as few as nine standing committees to improve efficiency, was broadly voted into FIFA statutes. Now, Infantino is set to stay in office for 15 years through 2031 and FIFA is preparing to give itself 35 committees plus more ad hoc taskforces.

The congress Friday should also hear a proposal by the Palestinian federation for FIFA to take action against Israeli soccer.


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