FIFA has set a new course under its new president Gianni Infantino. Football’s world governing body seeks to be more transparent and favours open discussion on strategic matters relating to the future of the game. For this reason, FIFA has launched a new round of Executive Football Summits around the world. The latest such meeting was hosted by the Royal Netherlands Football Association in Amsterdam on Tuesday.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino says the decision to hold one of the twelve summits in Amsterdam is only logical. "The KNVB looks at the world with an open mind, which is one of the main reasons we’ve come here. We were sure that we could expect a warm welcome and great cooperation."
KNVB President Michael van Praag expressed pride over the organisation of the Executive Football Summit. "Of course that's an honour. There are twelve such summits being organised globally, and one of them has gone to Amsterdam. It's clear to all that we can do a good job hosting these meetings."
Van Praag told reporters that, in his view, the summit was successful. "Those words won’t come as a surprise, but I will explain why we’re here with ten countries, half of them non-European. These countries have problems and concerns that are very different from ours. And they have quite a different perspective on matters, which can be very instructive.”
FIFA President Infantino said he found the discussions about the development of women's football particularly interesting. "There is an amazing level of quality in women's football at the top, all over the world. The United States beat Japan in the World Cup final, the Netherlands lifted the European title for the first time, and North Korea won two youth World Cups for women, the under-17s and under-20s. Women’s football is growing incredibly around the world and we need to do what we can to foster it.”
Also on the agenda was the ever-growing divide between the top footballing nations and the rest of the community. Will FIFA and the KNVB team up to close the gap? Infantino countered the question with the remark that “there are also many countries that are worried about the gap with the Netherlands. That is part of the evolution of football. When I was in UEFA, I looked into Financial Fair Play and considered ways of making the whole football system fair and sustainable."
There should be more benefits for clubs of developing talent. Not only financially, but also in the sense that young players who move to a stronger competition are actually given a chance to play. "Clubs with 80 players on contract and the majority of them loaned out are a thorn in the eye", in the words of Van Praag. "But I’ve known Gianni for a long time, so something is going to happen."
Of course, Gianni Infantino had a few words to say about the Netherlands national team, who will be missed at next year’s World Championship finals in Russia. The FIFA President’s first memory of the Oranje dates back to 1978. "It was a fantastic team that made it to the final. The Netherlands were even better in 1974, I’m told."
The FIFA presidents says he admires the big Dutch football legends. He knows the names of a whole string of them off the top of his head. "From Cruijff to Van Basten, later Bergkamp, and then Sneijder and also Robben." The Netherlands belongs to every World Cup, he says, adding jokingly at the press conference a few moments not much later: “And that’s why we’re extending the number of participating countries to 48 in 2026.”