Fifa president Gianni Infantino was in Bermuda yesterday, visiting Premier David Burt, Berkeley Institute and CedarBridge Academy before attending a reception of invited guests, including Clyde Best.
“I’m extremely happy to be here in Bermuda to visit this beautiful country and also these facilities at the Sports Centre,” said Infantino, referring to the National Sports Centre.
“I’m a little sad that it is a sports centre instead of a football centre but we can live with that because it is important to do sports whatever the sport is.
“We met this morning with the Premier and I can confirm he’s a great football fan. I congratulate the excellent work done by Mark [Wade, the Bermuda Football Association president] and his team at the Bermuda Football Association for the development of the game worldwide.
“As the Fifa president I have 211 member countries and with all of these our mission is to bring the joy of football to the people and that’s exactly what I can see here.
“Football is a magical game that you play with your feet, but most importantly with your heart.”
Infantino was in Bermuda before continuing on his journey to the Caribbean, where he will attend a summit meeting. Infantino arrived on the island on a private jet at 1.30am yesterday before leaving in the afternoon.
Prior to winning the presidency Infantino expressed his wish to see the World Cup increased to 40 teams, with the Fifa Council approving a 48-team event in 2026.
“The positive of it is that not only does it involve many more countries, but today the quality of football worldwide is very high, so there is no risk of losing quality,” he said. “You can play a World Cup with 48 teams in exactly the same number of days as you play the World with 32 teams.
“If you [look at] Bermuda [and] football nations that have millions, even billions [of residents] as in the case in some countries like China that is investing a lot in football, of course you can’t compare. But even in Europe there are countries of similar size as Bermuda.
“There is work to be done, but there are possibilities because it starts from the grass roots and from the youth. For this reason, we were discussing Bermuda in terms of football infrastructure, mainly pitches. What we need for the boys and girls to play football is mainly pitches, equipment and staff to work with them.
“The expertise is certainly here, the equipment we bring it and the infrastructure we work on.”
Bermuda will compete in the inaugural Concacaf Nations Cup later this year, a tournament aimed at increasing the level of exposure for smaller countries.
“It is a great idea, because in order to improve you need to compete,” he said. “You can play friendly matches but it is much better to play competitive matches.
“It is much better to play competitive matches against competitors of more or less the same level where there is something at stake in terms of rankings, promotion and relegation.”
Infantino, who replaced the disgraced Sepp Blatter just over a year ago during a period of scandal surrounding the governing body, admits it has been an exciting and challenging first year at the helm.
“It [Fifa] was in turmoil, that’s a diplomatic way to put it, but the past is the past and we have to make things better,” said Infantino who was secretary-general of Uefa before becoming Fifa president.
“It was very clear from when I started as a candidate to become Fifa president that the key is to to bring football back to Fifa and Fifa back to football. Maybe it was forgotten what the main mission is of Fifa, which is to develop football and organise football all over the world.
“We should bring in football legends, for example, to help us spread the message. One of the first steps we put in place after my election was to increase significantly the funds available for investment in football, development in infrastructure. We increased this amount from $400 million to $1.4 billion.”
Wade accompanied Infantino on his trip to the schools, and expressed delight in having a Fifa president visit the island for the first time in more than 30 years.
“We’re certainly grateful to have him visit Bermuda, as you can imagine he has 211 countries to visit and that Bermuda makes it on the list is fantastic,” Wade said, later presenting the president with Bermuda jerseys with his name across the back.
“We had a stop with the Premier, a stop at the Berkeley Institute and CedarBridge to see some of our national [youth] team players, so it is exciting.”
Infantino was introduced to Best, one of Bermuda’s most successful footballers as well as the next generation of players, including under-17 boys and girls captains Arnezha Astwood and Danni Watson. Tashun Simons, an up-and-coming referee who was recently appointed to the Fifa list, were also introduced to the Fifa president.
“There are some things that we will work on together, Fifa and the BFA, and we are very much looking forward to that co-operation as well as coming back to this beautiful place,” Infantino said.