FIFA president Gianni Infantino has lashed out at what he described as “hypocrisy” and “racism” from countries moralising about the Qatar World Cup and claimed Europe should “apologise for the next 3,000 years” for past mistakes.
In an astonishing one-hour monologue which opened a Saturday news conference in Doha, Infantino, who will stand unopposed for re-election as FIFA president next March, took aim at critics of Qatar and FIFA by defending the treatment of migrant workers, saying LGBTQ+ people were welcome and insisting he was still in control of the tournament despite a last-minute stadium ban on alcohol.
“What is sad is that especially in the last weeks, we have been assisting in some places a real lesson of moral, of double moral [standards],” Infantino said.
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“We are told to make many lessons from some Europeans, from the western world. I’m European. I think for what we Europeans have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.
“How many of these European companies who earn millions and millions form Qatar or other countries in the region — billions every year — how many of them have addressed migrant worker rights? I have the answer: none of them because if they change the legislation it means less profits.
“But we did. And FIFA generated much, much, much less than any of these companies, from Qatar.
“We see here as well many government representatives coming from Qatar. I don’t have to defend Qatar in any way whatsoever, they can defend themselves. I am defending football here, and injustice.
“If there was no gas, nobody would care. But now they all come and they all want something. Who is actually caring about the workers? FIFA does. Football does, the World Cup does and to be fair to them, Qatar does as well.”
Infantino questioned European immigration policy and claimed the West could learn from Qatar, which has faced repeated criticism from human rights campaigners about the treatment of migrant workers.
He said: “Where are we going with our way of working, guys? Where is the world going? If you go two steps back and you look at this issue of migration and their situation of hundreds of thousands of women and men who would like to offer their services who would like to help and give a future to their families back home, Qatar is actually offering them this opportunity.
“Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, they help their families to survive. And they do it in a legal way. We in Europe, we close our borders and we don’t allow practically any workers from these countries to work legally in our country. We all know there are many illegal workers in our European countries, living conditions which are also not really the best.
“Those who reach Europe, those who want to go to Europe, they have to go through a very difficult journey. Only a few survive. So if you would really care about the destiny of these people, these young people, then Europe could also do as Qatar did: create some legal channels where at least a number of these workers could come to Europe, lower revenues, but give them some work, give them some future, give them some hope.
“This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t point that doesn’t work here in Qatar as well. Of course, there are things that don’t work and need to be addressed. But this moral lesson giving, one-sided, it is just hypocrisy.”
Infantino began his extraordinary speech by declaring “today I have very strong feelings, today I feel Qatari, today I feel Arab, today I feel African, today I feel gay, today I feel disabled, today I feel a migrant worker” before claiming he understood what it meant to be discriminated against because “as a foreigner in a foreign country, as a child at school I was bullied because I had red hair and freckles.”
Turning his attention to LGBTQ+ rights, Infantino repeated the Qatar Supreme Committee’s insistence that everybody is welcome in the country despite the country’s strict laws against homosexuality, punishable in some cases by death.
“They’ve confirmed that I can confirm that everyone is welcome,” Infantino said. “If the odd person here or there says the opposite, it’s not the opinion of the country and it’s certainly not the opinion of FIFA. This a clear FIFA requirement, that everyone is to be welcome.
“Everyone who comes to Qatar is welcome, whatever religion, race, sexual orientation, belief she or he has, everyone is welcome. This was our requirement and the Qatari state sticks to that requirement.
“You will tell me: ‘Yes, but there are legislations which prohibit that, or whatever, you have to go to jail’. Yes, these legislations exist. They exist in many countries in the world. These legislation existed in Switzerland when they organised the World Cup in 1954. Like for the workers, these are processes.”
At the demand of Qatar’s Supreme Committee, Alcohol was banned in stadiums just two days before Sunday’s opening match between Qatar and Ecuador despite years of promise fans would be able to buy beer at games.
Infantino insisted FIFA was still “200% in control” of the tournament and appeared to suggest: “If this is the biggest issue we have for the World Cup, I will sign immediately and go to the beach and relax until 18th of December.
“Let me first assure you that every decision taken at this World Cup is a joint decision between Qatar and FIFA. Every decision. It is discussed, debated and taken jointly. There will be over 200 places where you can buy alcohol in Qatar.
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“Over 10 fanzones where over 100,000 can simultaneously drink alcohol. I think personally, if for three hours a day you cannot drink a beer, you will survive, especially because actually the same rules apply in France or Spain or in Portugal, or in Scotland. No beer is allowed in the stadiums.
“Here it becomes a big thing because it is a Muslim country. I don’t know why. We tried. It’s the one I give you of course, a late change of policy. Because we tried until the end to see if it was possible. But one thing is to have plans and designs and another thing is when you start putting it in place.
“You look at the flows of the people, look at their safety going in and out, going to attend different matches. This is something at this World Cup that is new in that respect.”