MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - A few steps from the entrance to Mexico City’s imposing Presidente Hotel, where FIFA delegates are staying during this week’s Congress, a boy of around 10-years-old sells tamarind balls covered in chili powder from a cart for 10 Mexican pesos ($0.55) each.
The spicy, tangy sweets are a local specialty yet are unlikely to have been tasted by the FIFA delegates. The guests of world soccer are more likely to be inside sipping lattes for eight times the price.
FIFA has often been known for lavishing a five-star lifestyle on its delegates and officials. When former president Sepp Blatter went to an event in Zurich with the city’s mayor, he arrived in a chauffeur-driven limousine while the politician came and went by tram.
But after Gianni Infantino was elected president of soccer’s scandal-plagued body in February, one of his first pledges was to make FIFA more humble, suggesting, among other things, that federation officials no longer wore suits to matches.
The early signs were promising as he flew to Britain for his first official engagement by a budget airline rather than the private plane favored by his predecessor.
But this week’s Congress in Mexico City has looked as extravagant as any held under Blatter.
FIFA confirmed that it paid all the expenses for each of its 209 member associations to bring a three-man delegation, flying business class and staying in five-star accommodation. Each delegate was also given $1,000 in spending money.
Rooms at the Presidente are booked for about $400 a night. Members of the FIFA Council, the world governing body’s board, are staying at the plusher Four Seasons hotel where rooms typically cost $675 a night, according to hotel booking websites.
FIFA sources told Reuters that efforts were being made to persuade delegates to leave their bubble but having them walk a few hundred yards took some effort.
Some were seen walking the 500 meters from their hotel to Thursday’s opening ceremony at the city’s 10,000-seat National Auditorium, considered one of the world’s best entertainment venues.
It was seen by FIFA as a step, albeit it a small one, in the right direction, although others insisted on taking a luxury bus.
The night before, FIFA seemed as detached as ever when their so-called Legends team of former international footballers took part in an exhibition match at Mexico City’s historic Azteca stadium.
FIFA billed it as a “football fiesta” and said it was “engaging more with the football world and getting football back to the heart of FIFA,”. It was closed to the public.
It was witnessed only by specially invited guests who spent most of the evening in a tent built onto the pitch, where they were pampered with wine, champagne and canapes, while traditional Mexican dances were performed on a stage.
Privately, FIFA sources said the event had been hastily arranged and had not been what they intended.
Infantino, who has vowed to cut costs, was somewhat vague when asked about it at a media conference on Friday, though he said it was something FIFA could look into.
“I think it’s always been the case that they are paid $1,000 as a fee for the delegates, it’s part of the budget approved by the finance committee,” he said.
“It’s good that it’s been raised and we might have a look at it.”
($1 = 18.1568 Mexican pesos)
Editing by Ian Ransom