The world’s most powerful president had a bizarre meeting in the White House on Tuesday. I’m talking, of course, about FIFA president Gianni Infantino.
Infantino was welcomed to the Oval Office by a slightly less prominent president, Donald Trump, in what has to be one of the more bizarre interactions between the sports world, politics and the free press — at least in the last three days (it is 2018, after all).
Unfortunately, whenever Donald Trump is discussed, a portion of the audience will claim “fake news” to any negative press about Trump while many more will just bash him endlessly no matter what he says. You really can’t win. Both sides are bit tired to be honest, so let’s just use our own version of VAR to take a look at what exactly went down in the White House today.
Because Boulder, Colorado, is much nicer than Washington, The18 didn’t bother leaving our comfortable confines (it was sunny in the low 70s here) to attend the White House meeting. But the White House does publish transcripts of public meetings and we currently have a free press in the United States so we have plenty of accounts of what went down between Infantino and Trump. You can read the dialogue here.
Perhaps the craziest moment of the day occurred when Infantino was giving Trump a few gifts. In addition to a blue FIFA soccer jersey featuring “TRUMP” and the number 26 on the back (for World Cup 2026, which Trump single-handedly brought to the U.S.), Infantino gave Trump red and yellow cards and had to explain to him how they’re used (though Trump reportedly played soccer in high school so presumably he already knew).
Trump immediately showed the red card to the press, hoping to eject them from the game.
WATCH: President Trump jokingly gives the press a red card after receiving soccer penalty cards as a gift during a FIFA meeting in the Oval Office. pic.twitter.com/ildNB6qCp7— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 28, 2018
Why VAR was invented https://t.co/plkDr9s94o— Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) August 28, 2018
While this was mostly in jest, Trump’s war with the free press is nothing new. It’s a sentiment shared by FIFA’s president. In 2017 Gianni Infantino channeled his inner Trump by claiming: “There is a lot of fake news and alternative facts about FIFA circulating.”
Of course, common sense says alternative facts are what most would call fiction. Fake news, meanwhile, is a real phenomenon, but not in the sense it’s most often used, where it’s become a rallying cry against any sort of coverage someone disagrees with. Infantino would do well to realize this, especially as the head of an organization with such a deeply corrupt past ( and present).
Interestingly, on May 9, 2017, both Trump and Infantino axed people who posed a possible threat to their power. On the same day Trump fired FBI chief Jim Comey, Infantino slyly got rid of the judge and prosecutor who had ongoing cases against soccer officials related to FIFA corruption.
Gianni Infantino: "You are part of the FIFA team now"
Donald Trump: "That's good" pic.twitter.com/y0Q5Rc56On
Pure Coincidence they gave Trump John Terry’s Number 26? pic.twitter.com/jGCZbkPJuB— Men in Blazers (@MenInBlazers) August 28, 2018
It appears Trump and Infantino have a lot in common. Both are big fans of Russian president Vladimir Putin, who gave Trump a World Cup ball during their meeting in July.
A column I wrote in July after asking Infantino about his gushing over Putin https://t.co/BATz4m7Rm3
Knowing Trump’s love of TV ratings, Infantino appealed to the U.S. president by claiming this summer’s World Cup in Russia drew nearly four billion viewers. Unfortunately, we cannot find any numbers to back up this claim, which would require nearly 60 percent of the global population to have watched the tournament. That would be a high percentage even for the most ardent of soccer nations; for comparison, about a third of Americans watch the Super Bowl.
Infantino to Trump: "We just had the world cup in Russia. Nearly 4 billion viewers." (global population is 7bn)
It's likely Infantino was using cumulative numbers, in which case someone like me would have been counted 64 times for having watched all 64 matches, but his statement was a bit misleading.
But that wasn’t the only bizarre interchange between the two, who spent much of the time in an awkward position with Trump sitting and Infantino standing over him.
Trump remains seated to welcome the FIFA president while Infantino has to stand, looking down at POTUS in Oval Office pic.twitter.com/Os0dg6O25p
Here are some of the other highlights:
Infantino alongside Trump in Oval Office as POTUS discussed his complaints about Google searches https://t.co/VkmSm5DtNv
In the Oval Office just now, Donald Trump to FIFA President Gianni Infantino: "Soccer is a game, I guess you call it football but over here maybe someday they will change the name."
Infantino interjected: "We can negotiate that"
Trump welcomes FIFA President Infantino to White House: "He is the president of FIFA and a highly-respected man. In fact, when my son heard he was going to be here he said, 'Dad I would like to meet him.' So you are pretty famous."
Any good parent knows someone is only a big deal if their kid knows about them.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino to Donald Trump in the Oval Office: "It is a great honor to be here. Thanks for everything you are doing"
Trump on 2026 World Cup: "2026... I won't be here. Maybe they will extend the term"
"A good reason," Infantino appears to say talking over POTUS
Trump tells FIFA President Infantino: "If they don't extend it (his term to the time of the 2026 World Cup) the media is going to be very boring and they will all be out of business I guess."
Trump did drop a little soccer knowledge during the meeting. Trump asked a reporter who was trying to ask a question where he was from, to which he responded Brazil: "We have the best team in the world."
Trump responded: "Except it had a little problem last time." At least Brazil qualified for the World Cup, something the U.S. failed to do. (Personally, I love that Trump properly used the singular noun for Brazil, something few people do correctly.)
U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro was also in attendance and gave Trump a “45” jersey, similar to the Arsenal jersey he was given by Piers Morgan. I’m not sure if Arsenal fans or U.S. fans feel more strongly about these kits.
As mentioned above, Trump did play soccer back in the day before he got bone spurs in his feet. His most likable son, Barron, is a big soccer fan and plays in D.C. United’s youth system.
Overall, it’s probably a positive to have the most influential president in the world visit the White House, something I can’t remember ever happening under Barack Obama (though Sepp Blatter did reportedly call him to tell him the U.S. wouldn’t win the 2022 World Cup hosting rights).
Gianni Infantino being chummy with the U.S. can’t hurt U.S. Soccer, maybe.