Cape Town — FIFA president Gianni Infantino was roundly booed at the opening ceremony of the Africa Cup of Nations at the Olembé Stadium, Yaounde, Cameroon.
The 40-000-strong crowd was in a jovial mood while the dazzling on-field activities were displayed on a giant TV screen in the stadium. However, when the face of Infantino was projected it raised the ire of the crowd, and a loud chorus of boos rang out.
Infantino's image also drew a sharp rebuke from Frenchman Claude Le Roy, who was commentating for the DStv Sub-Saharan African channel Canal + Africa. Le Roy has mentored several African national teams during his coaching career. He led Cameroon's Indomitable Lions to Africa Cup of Nations glory in 1998.
Although he is no longer coaching, he is still passionate about African football, and he openly criticized Infantino for his role in planting doubt in the minds of soccer followers about the Africa Cup of Nations taking place in Cameroon.
"Is he not ashamed to come to Cameroon? He wanted to cancel this Africa Cup of Nations," said Le Roy. "What is he doing here?"
Infantino was seated out further from Cameroon's 88-year-old President Paul Biya in the VIP area than usual. As FIFA's representative, he would usually have a position a seat or two away from the hosts' president. Instead, that honour was accorded to Confederation of African Football (CAF) supremo Patrice Motsepe.
It was the second time during Infantino's tenure as FIFA president that he was publicly booed. In July 2019 Infantino was booed at Stade de Lyon in France, as he made his way up to the podium to present the FIFA Women's World Cup trophy to the winners, the United States of America.
At the time, chants of equal pay rang out, as the crowd voiced its disapproval of discriminatory prize money for the Women's World Cup.
Last year, Le Roy also criticized Infantino heavily after the event was postponed for the first time.
“Once again, FIFA is pathetic," said Le Roy. "Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, makes incomprehensible decisions.
"He says he wants to advance African football but does just the opposite."
This week, Infantino will be having discussions with a wide range of officials on football’s development and its significant role in society. He will also have meetings with Motsepe and CAF General Secretary Veron Mosengo-Omba.
In addition, he will meet with representatives from CAF member associations, football legends, government officials and administrators.
The Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon ends on Sunday, 6 February.