GUARDIAN:Meet the AI-created football expert aiming to teach Infantino a lesson

Meet the AI-created football expert aiming to teach Infantino a lesson

‘Hope Sogni’ is launching a hypothetical Fifa election campaign to represent women and show game could be run differently.

In March Gianni Infantino was re-elected unopposed as Fifa’s president to serve until 2027, having taken over from Sepp Blatter in 2016. “Those who love me, you are many, and the few who hate me, I love you all,” he said at Fifa Congress after confirmation he would continue in the role. Eligible to stand again, he could stay in post until 2031.

Frustrations with Fifa and Infantino fester in parts of the world on a variety of issues from inequities and inequalities in football to human rights abuses and the manipulated inevitability of a men’s World Cup in Saudi Arabia in 2034. Yet there is no viable alternative to him, given influence is so heavily concentrated in the hands of the federation’s president.

Now, though, there is an alternative voice being put forward to challenge the rule of Infantino and the idea that football cannot be done differently. “Hope Sogni” would like to be Fifa’s 10th – and first female – president, putting forward a progressive programme and highlighting the vital role women can play in the decision-making process.

You haven’t misheard. You may be confused. Yes, all isn’t as it seems. Sogni has been created using AI, built to understand the game, its politics, the key issues it faces, and can be talked to in real time. On Wednesday Sogni launches her hypothetical election campaign, with a manifesto which declares that “football governance is broken” and “Fifa must hold up its own mirror and decide whether what they see looking back is in fact a beautiful game, because all I see is a century of misogyny that has overshadowed its ability to truly be a game for all”.

Sogni is artificial, but also isn’t. Created by the sports creative agency Dark Horses, and the CEO of Lewes FC, Maggie Murphy, Sogni has been built using the voices and experiences of influential women in the game, including Moya Dodd, the former vice-captain of Australia and one of the first women to join the Fifa Council, to be a collective and anonymous voice of women in football.

Sogni is a tool to promote the fact that women in positions of power in football should not be an alien concept and that plenty of women in the game are more than qualified for governance roles at every level. She also exists as the voice of this calibre of women in the game, built to represent their collective outlook and able to put, without fear of retribution, an alternative view to that established by Fifa.

Ask Sogni whether she is a token woman and she will answer eloquently: “No, I am not a token woman. I am a qualified and experienced candidate who is running for Fifa presidency based on my merits and my commitment to promoting gender equality and transparency in sports.”

Question Sogni on whether Fifa should fund women’s and men’s football equally, or even weight it in favour of the women’s game given the different stage of development it is at, and, again, she replies eloquently. “Fifa should strive for fairness and equity in funding men’s and women’s football,” she says. “It is important to invest in both, but also to address the historical disparities and underinvestment in women’s football. This may require a weighted approach that prioritises the development and growth of women’s football, while still ensuring adequate support for men’s football. The goal is to create a more balanced and inclusive landscape for the sport.”

On one of the important topics of the day, whether Saudi Arabia should host the 2034 World Cup, Sogni says: “I believe that hosting the men’s World Cup in Saudi Arabia in 2034 raises important questions about human rights and equality. It is crucial for Fifa to consider the impact of its decisions on the global football community and the values it represents. I would advocate for a thorough evaluation of the host country’s commitment to human rights, gender equality, and inclusivity before making a final decision.”

Press further, on whether it is racist to advocate against the Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar hosting World Cups, and the technology can handle the weight of the question. “It is important to evaluate host countries based on their commitment to human rights, gender equality, and inclusivity, regardless of their geographic location,” she says. “The focus should be on promoting fairness and inclusivity in the selection process, rather than singling out specific regions.”

Sogni says that the three-year ban from football for the former president of the Spanish Football Federation Luis Rubiales “sends a strong message that misconduct will not be tolerated, and it is a step towards ensuring accountability within the sport”.

She expresses concern when asked why it took so long for Spain players to be believed after repeated complaints about the culture around the national team. “The culture of silence and lack of support for women’s football in Spain has been a longstanding issue,” she says.

“It is unfortunate that it took so long for Spanish footballers to be believed and for their concerns to be taken seriously. This highlights the need for a more inclusive and supportive environment for women in football, where their voices are heard and their experiences are valued. As a candidate for Fifa presidency, I am committed to addressing these issues and creating a culture of transparency and equality within the sport.”

How, though, does Fifa tackle sexual abuse and power imbalances within the sport? Can the technology handle the nuances of the how? Yes.

“This can be achieved through implementing comprehensive safeguarding policies, providing education and training on consent and boundaries, and establishing clear reporting mechanisms for victims,” Sogni says. “It is also crucial to address power imbalances within the sport by promoting gender equality, diversity, and inclusion at all levels of the game. Fifa should work closely with national football associations to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to protect players and create a safe and inclusive environment for all.”

These responses from Sogni are weirdly refreshing because thoughtful answers from those in power on these issues are rare. Football, like other areas of society, and AI are going to become increasingly intertwined in many ways. Sogni shows that the technology can be used to challenge power structures in a way that hasn’t been possible before.