A world football boss has broken rank to claim FIFA is awarding World Cups – including to Saudi Arabia – without a transparent process.
Lise Klaveness is the first football federation chief to go public with concerns about the rapid, short-circuit process that effectively decided the 2030 and 2034 hosts in secret meetings led by FIFA President Gianni Infantino.
“It has not been a transparent process,” Ms Klaveness, the Norwegian football federation president, told Sky News.
“We have to expect good governance,” she added. “We had big, big, huge reforms in FIFA several years ago, which were good on paper, but it needs to be implemented and I cannot see how that has happened.”
Ms Klaveness also said she was “very concerned” that FIFA is not taking women’s football seriously enough, given a World Cup host for 2027 is yet to be confirmed.
The overall process appears at odds with the transformation of world football’s decision-making promised by Mr Infantino after replacing the discredited Sepp Blatter in 2016.
The 211 football nations should have had the final say on World Cup hosts – but last month, the closed FIFA Council suddenly produced an unprecedented plan to combine rival bids for a 2030 tournament in six countries on three continents.
And they formed a curtailed, favourable process that blocked most of the world from bidding – paving the way for the Saudi Arabia to be unchallenged for 2034.
“When decisions are made in closed rooms, it’s the opposite of what the reforms were promising us,” Ms Klaveness said.
The decision came after Mr Infantino prioritised trips to Saudi Arabia over most other nations in the last three years – regularly meeting Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and even appearing in a government promotional video advertising the virtues of the oil-rich nation.
Ms Klaveness said: “When we give away power … and money and influence to nations and hosts without knowing that FIFA has had enough objectivity and arm’s length distance and no conflict of interest in it, then we have a problem. So then the question needs to be asked.”
She hopes for transparency on Mr Infantino’s dealings with the Saudis while being focused on the process rather than the country itself.
She asked: “How have you [Mr Infantino] worked to keep an objectivity to business and knowing the fact that this is a lot of power? How has the power been separated between different bodies and persons so that you don’t get conflicts of interest?”
FIFA has not explained why it only allowed countries in Asia and Oceania to bid for 2034 when North and Central American nations should have been permitted under the rotation system in the statutes.
Only weeks were given to form a bid that was too challenging for a democratic nation like Australia, which needs government agreements.
FIFA has sought to portray the selection of the 2030 and 2034 World Cup hosts as still being in play, with assessments of the countries to be conducted.
But Mr Infantino’s own comments on Instagram last week were taken as confirmation when he said the 2030 and 2034 tournaments were “set to be hosted” by the announced nations without any caveats mentioning an ongoing process.
A key part of that process should be human rights assessments, which FIFA has not fully committed to being published when pressed by Sky News.
Under FIFA regulations, a plan to mitigate risks should be presented to address anti-LGBTQ+ laws and the lack of equal rights for women.
But with the hosts already lined up, the importance of the bidding evaluations – a key reform from the start of the Infantino presidency – has been reduced.
Ms Klaveness said: “We don’t know if that’s a breach of a code of conduct or if there are good reasons to do so.”
What about the Women’s World Cup?
FIFA has not explained why the 2027 Women’s World Cup host will not be selected until next year – with four rivals.
“Everyone should be very concerned with those symbolic signals you’re sending because we are in desperate need to have a balance that the women’s side is lifted at least at the same acknowledgement level as the men’s side,” Ms Klaveness said.
“And when you have those awards for three [men’s] World Cups and the next is not awarded for women, it might be a danger that people will view this as not taken as seriously.”
In response to the interview, FIFA insisted it is now a “respected, trusted and modern governing body.”
FIFA told Sky News that because the FIFA Congress still has the final ratification of World Cup hosts that “the suggestion that the Congress has been cut out is clearly misinformed.”
But FIFA acknowledged that “consultations with the confederations” – which were not publicly declared – had led to the decision to award two World Cups at the same time.
FIFA said in a statement: “Securing future FIFA World Cup hosts across multiple editions and cycles provides certainty and stability for FIFA’s flagship men’s football competition from a commercial, financial and operational perspective, which in turn helps position FIFA to best fulfil its key statutory objectives.”
But while highlighting the benefits of changes to the men’s World Cup process, FIFA responded to criticism of the deadline for the Women’s World Cup selection by saying it was “not substantially different to previous bidding processes.”
In 2018, Mr Infantino did oversee an unprecedented open vote for the 2026 World Cup with the combined United States-Canada-Mexico plan beating Morocco and the votes of the FIFA Congress made public.
But it was the ruling council of 37 members that decided to combine the interest from Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay to create a vast 2030 World Cup – without putting the plan to the congress of every football nation.