FIFA 2023: The Best – Infantino’s Second Term Begins in Rwanda, Between Innovation and Repression

At the FIFA International Congress which started today in Kigali, Rwanda, the incumbent Gianni Infantino was unopposed and has now been re-appointed for a second term as the head of the world’s leading football organisation. This African nation hosting the congress is indeed a notable event. It’s the fourth time the event is held in Africa, following Morocco, South Africa and Mauritius.

Considerably, Rwanda, which has seen significant growth under President Paul Kagame since 2000, is infamous for the civil war between the Hutu and Tutsi populations and the genocide of the latter, with over half a million deaths in few days. Kagame has devoted his tenure to the country’s development, aiming to transform it into a middle-income state over a twenty-year plan. The tourism sector, especially the renowned Volcanoes National Park – a habitat of the endangered mountain gorillas – is thriving. Sport is playing a key role in this development.

Infantino’s decision to hold the congress in Rwanda has highlighted the country’s dedication to sport. This is evidenced in sponsored football clubs such as Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), the hosting of the inaugural season of the Basketball Africa League in 2021, and the NBA Giants of Africa camping held in 2018. The country is also set to host the world cycling championship in 2025 for the first time in an African nation.

However, Rwanda’s path is not devoid of looming shadows. Despite its environmental commitment and progress towards being plastic-free, the issues of human rights continue to stain its reputation. Criticism of the president or government is generally discouraged, making Rwanda one of the lowest-ranked African countries in terms of freedom of speech.

Noteworthy amongst political prisoners is Paul Rusesabagina, whose efforts to save hundreds of Tutsi and moderate Hutus during the genocide was depicted in the film, Hotel Rwanda. Despite being a national hero, Rusesabagina, a strong critic of Kagame, was arrested during a business trip to Dubai on dubious charges of terrorism and subsequently sentenced to 25 years imprisonment in September 2021.

FIFA’s choice of Rwanda is a controversial one. But it does highlight the increasing role of football, and Gianni Infantino’s FIFA in particular, in global geopolitics.

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