The benefits of working with FIFA to create more jobs in Africa offsets the ongoing controversies surrounding Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup this year, the head of the World Trade Organization told CNBC.
The WTO and FIFA signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Tuesday aimed at building up the participation of cotton-producing countries in the global soccer industry.
“Maybe there have been controversies and we are not shying away from that,” WTO Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala told CNBC’s JuIianna Tatelbaum in Geneva.
Okonjo-Iweala’s comments come as Qatar has increasingly been put under the microscope for its treatment of migrant workers engaged in construction projects ahead of the November FIFA World Cup tournament.
Okonjo-Iweala added that “no one has shut down the World Cup and said it’s not going to take place.”
Speaking on the same panel in Geneva, FIFA President Gianni Infantino told CNBC: “Thanks to the spotlight of football, as well, many things have changed in Qatar,”
“I am happy to take all the criticism of everyone for everything, doesn’t matter, as long we can have a little, little concrete and real positive impact.”
Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, director general of the World Trade Organization (WTO), speaks during the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) annual meeting in New York, on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images
The MoU, which will be in place until December 2027, stipulates that FIFA and WTO will share information and expertise on the economic dimensions of soccer, as well as explore using soccer as a tool for women’s empowerment in less developed countries.
Infantino and Okonjo-Iweala placed soccer’s annual economic value at $268 million.
“I think that the balance of thinking is if we are going to have the whole world going to this place for this World Cup, no matter the controversies, and we have a chance to make this whole thing benefit poor countries through trade, we will take it,” Okonjo-Iweala said. “So it’s a considered decision.”
She believed that the “Cotton Four” nations (Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad and Mali) could benefit from the partnership.
Infantino, meanwhile, said he believed in the transformation that soccer can bring. “In Qatar, for example, in terms of, of workers’ rights, of human rights. Things have still to change. But a process has started and people are much better now than how they were before,” he said.