Gianni Infantino stepped into the press conference room at the Luzhniki Stadium here on Friday afternoon wearing a pullover meant for World Cup volunteers.
That perhaps made the Fifa president the best paid volunteer in the World Cup’s history given that he earns over a million dollars. The combined earnings of actual volunteers from Fifa stand at zero.
“We are all volunteers at some point in our lives,” he replied to a reporter’s question about Fifa using so many people for free at major tournaments.
Infantino said he was grateful to the services of the volunteers but indicated there would be no change in Fifa’s policy towards them as far as remuneration, or the lack of it, was concerned.
While his mini PR stunt got off to a rocky start, Infantino seemed eager to talk about the World Cup in general and its host nation Russia in particular.
“We wanted this to be the best World Cup ever and it has been the best World Cup ever,” he said.
“The World Cup has changed Russia. Football is part of Russia’s DNA now. It has also changed the perception of the world about Russia. Around a million people have come to Russia and everyone has discovered a wonderful and welcoming country,” he said.
There was also talk about Qatar and Infantino said leagues around the world have been informed that the 2022 World Cup would be taking place from November 21 to December 18.
“Of course, they will have to adapt,” he said of the different domestic leagues around the world.
Last month, plans to expand the World Cup to 48 teams in Qatar didn’t come up for a vote at the Fifa Congress. However, Infantino insisted that plans to expand the tournament in 2022, instead of 2026, hasn’t been shelved.
“If everybody comes on board and thinks it might be positive to change to 48, we can have a look. All options will be on the table,” he said.
Expansion in 2022 could also help bring the Gulf nations together following a Saudi Arabia-led blockade of Qatar last year, he said.
“Maybe through Fifa and football, we could bring countries together and allow them to start having a dialogue. Football can open up the doors to communication between nations,” he said.