the main points
- FIFA President Gianni Infantino has accused critics of World Cup host Qatar’s human rights record of “hypocrisy”.
- He also said that he identifies with marginalized groups.
- Infantino’s comments sparked a backlash from human rights advocates.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino accused critics of World Cup host Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers of hypocrisy on Saturday, adding that participation was the only way to improve human rights.
In lengthy and sometimes angry opening remarks at a press conference on the eve of the tournament’s start, Infantino blasted European critics of the host nation over issues of migrant workers and .
“Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel helpless. Today I feel (like) a homeless person. Today I feel (like) a migrant worker,” he said.
“I feel all of this because what I see… takes me back to my own personal story.”
Infantino then detailed how he was raised as a child of migrant workers in Switzerland and bullied for his accent, red hair, and freckles.
He later added, “Of course I’m not Qatari, I’m not Arab, I’m not African, I’m not gay, and I’m not disabled.”
“But I feel it, because I know what it’s like to be discriminated against, to be bullied, as a foreigner in a foreign country.”
Being European, Infantino said he had “difficulties understanding criticism”. .
“For what we have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we must apologize for the next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons,” he said.
“We have to invest in helping these people, in education and giving them a better future and more hope. We must all educate ourselves, many things are not perfect but reform and change takes time.
This one-sided moral lesson is sheer hypocrisy.
He added, “It is not easy to accept criticism for a decision taken 12 years ago. Doha is ready, Qatar is ready, and of course it will be the best world championship ever.”
Infantino’s comments sparked a backlash from human rights advocates.
“In ignoring legitimate criticism of human rights, Gianni Infantino ignores the high price migrant workers paid to make his major tournament possible – as well as FIFA’s responsibility for it,” said Steve Cockburn of Amnesty International.
He said that demands for fair compensation should not be “treated as some kind of culture war”.
Nick McGeehan of the migrant worker advocacy group Fair Square called Infantino’s comments “brusque” and “clumsy”.
Qatar has said that it is a welcoming country He denied the charges .
Infantino also defended Iran’s presence at the tournament despite the current wave of deadly protests it has sparked In police custody in September.
“It’s not two systems playing against each other, it’s not two ideologies playing against each other, it’s two football teams,” he said.
“If we don’t have football at least that brings us together… What world would we live in? Iran has 80 million people, are they all bad? Are they all monsters?”
Addressing Friday’s decision Infantino said FIFA had failed to convince the Qatari government to abide by the original decision to allow it.
“We tried and that’s why I’m giving you the late change in policy,” he said. “We tried to see if that was possible.”
Infantino said he had received assurances from the highest level of the Qatari government that LGBT people would be welcomed into the country for the World Cup.
Same-sex relations are illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison in Qatar. Some soccer stars have raised concerns about the rights of fans traveling to the event, particularly LGBT people and women, whom rights groups say Qatari laws discriminate against.
At an unusual end to the press conference, FIFA’s Director of Media Relations, Bryan Swanson, took up the microphone to defend Mr Infantino.
“I’ve seen a lot of criticism of Gianni Infantino since I joined FIFA, especially from the LGBTI community,” he said.
“I am sitting here in a privileged position on the world stage as a gay man here in Qatar. He has received assurances that everyone will be welcome… Just because Gianni Infantino is not gay, doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. He cares.”