FIFA president Gianni Infantino has accused the West of “hypocrisy” in its reporting about Qatar’s human rights record on the eve of the World Cup.
In an extraordinary monologue at a news conference in Doha, Switzerland-born Infantino spoke for nearly an hour and made a passionate defence of Qatar and the tournament.
The event has been overshadowed by issues in Qatar including deaths of migrant workers and treatment of LGBT people.
Infantino opened by saying: “Today I have strong feelings. Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel a migrant worker.”
“What do you do then? You try to engage, make friends. Don’t start accusing, fighting, insulting, you start engaging. And this is what we should be doing.”
Hosts Qatar kick off the tournament against Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday (16:00 GMT).
In February 2021, the Guardian said 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since it won its World Cup bid.
The number is based on figures provided by the countries’ embassies in Qatar.
However, the Qatar government said the total was misleading, because not all the deaths recorded were of people working on World Cup-related projects.
Infantino said: “I am European. For what we have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons.
“How many of these European or Western business companies who earn millions from Qatar, billions, how many of them have addressed migrant workers’ rights with the authorities?
“None of them, because if you change the legislation it means less profit. But we did, and FIFA generates much less than any of these companies from Qatar.
“If Europe really care about the destiny of these people, they can create legal channels – like Qatar did – where a number of these workers can come to Europe to work. Lower revenues…. But give them some future, some hope.
“This means we shouldn’t point to what doesn’t work, here in Qatar as well, of course, there are some things that don’t work that need to be addressed.”
“I have difficulties understanding the criticism. We have to invest in helping these people, in education and to give them a better future and more hope. We should all educate ourselves, many things are not perfect but reform and change takes time.
“Who is actually caring about the workers? FIFA does, football does, the World Cup does & to be fair to them Qatar does as well,” he added.
“This one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy. I wonder why no-one recognises the progress made here since 2016.
“It is not easy to take the critics of a decision that was made 12 years ago. Qatar is ready, it will be the best World Cup ever.
“I don’t have to defend Qatar, they can defend themselves. I defend football. Qatar has made progress and I feel many other things as well.
“Of course I am not Qatari, Arab, African, gay, disabled or a migrant worker. But I feel like them because I know what it means to be discriminated and bullied as a foreigner in a foreign country.”
“As a child I was bullied – because I had red hair and freckles, plus I was Italian so imagine.”
“What do you do then? You try to engage, make friends. And this is what we should be doing.”
“Don’t start accusing, fighting, insulting, you start engaging. There are 1 billion disabled people in the world … and nobody cares”
“Don’t criticise Qatar..”
Qatar’s ‘kafala system’ is a set of labour laws which allow Qatari individuals or businesses to confiscate workers’ passports and stop them leaving the country.
Human rights groups say this has given developers free reign to exploit them – exposing them to gruelling working conditions for little pay and not allowing them to go home until projects materialise.
There have been reports of migrant worker deaths that range from a few dozen to several thousand in the 12 years of preparation for the tournament.
Qatar’s Sharia law means same-sex sexual activity has punishments ranging from seven years in jail to death by stoning.
Qatar has been under pressure to build a migrant workers’ centre and Infantino announced a “dedicated and permanent office” in Doha, following discussions with the Qatar government and International Labour Organisation (ILO).
He also said every worker that has an accident “receives compensation by law”.
“Depending on the magnitude, it can be several years of salary,” he added.
Infantino also said FIFA’s Qatar 2022 legacy fund will go into education, signing an agreement that will help 25 million children and women in India.
“FIFA is opening up its compensation legacy fund for anyone who wants to invest in it”
Saying people can sit on a board if they invest.
Also establish a “Labour excellence hub” in Qatar with UN agency.
“This legislation exists in many countries …like for the workers these are processes. What do you want to do – stay home, hammer & criticise how bad these Arabs & Muslims are because it is not allowed to be publicly gay. Of course I believe it should be allowed.”
Alcohol u-turn ‘a joint decision’
Just two days before the start of the tournament, FIFA changed its policy and announced no alcohol will be served at any of the eight World Cup stadiums.
Alcohol was set to be served “in select areas within stadiums”, despite its sale being strictly controlled in the Muslim country.
Those in corporate areas of stadiums at the tournament will still be able to purchase alcohol.
Addressing the changed decision, Infantino said: “If this is the biggest issue we have for the World Cup then I will resign immediately and go to the beach to relax.
“Let me first assure you that every decision taken at this World Cup is a joint decision between Qatar and Fifa.
“There will be many fan zones where you can buy alcohol in Qatar and fans can simultaneously drink alcohol. I think if for three hours a day you cannot drink a beer, you will survive.
“Especially because the same rules apply in France, Spain, Portugal and Scotland. Here it has become a big thing because it is a Muslim country? I don’t know why. We tried and that is why I give you the late change of policy. We tried to see if it was possible.”
Asked why Iran should be at the World Cup following rights abuse and severe protests following the death of Mahsa Amini on September 16:
“Are they all monsters? What does the world have? if not football to bring them together,” he went on.
He went on to suggest hosting the tournament in the country. ‘If we should go with a tournament to Iran, let’s go because maybe that will change something,’ he said.
Infantino offered up ‘Palestinians and Israelis’ being able to come together as a positive reason for hosting the World Cup in the country.
‘Maybe it is just during the World Cup, but it is a door that has been opened,’ he said.
Asked about some fans who have said they will never watch the World Cup following events in Qatar:
‘To the fans who are not going to watch the World Cup, well, don’t watch it. What do you want me to tell them? I am convinced they will.
“It’s like in these polls we have seen very recently…in some countries that say it’s bad to watch the World Cup because it’s in Qatar and it’s FIFA and look this bad guy. [But] privately when they go home, of course they watch it. Because when you’re a football fan, there’s nothing bigger than the World Cup. We will have five billion people watching it. Those who watch it, officially and privately, they will see the best football ever and they will see the biggest emotions ever.”
BBC and Dailymail