FIFA president slams World Cup critics, slams European ‘hypocrisy’ over rights
Gianni Infantino said he felt gay. Let him feel like a woman. Make him feel like a migrant worker. He lectured the Europeans for criticizing Qatar’s human rights record and defended the host country’s last-minute decision to ban beer in World Cup stadiums.
The FIFA president delivered an hour-long tirade on the eve of the World Cup opener, then spent around 45 minutes answering questions from the media about the actions of the Qatari government and a wide range other subjects.
« Today I feel Qatari, » Infantino said on Saturday at the start of his first World Cup press conference. « Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel migrant worker. »
Infantino then hit back at a reporter who noticed he had excluded women from his unusual statement.
« I feel like a woman, » replied the FIFA president.
Qatar has faced a litany of criticism since 2010, when it was chosen by FIFA to host the biggest soccer tournament in the world.
The migrant workers who built the World Cup stadiums in Qatar often worked long hours in harsh conditions and faced discrimination, wage theft and other abuses as their employers evaded accountability, said London-based rights group Equidem in a 75-page report published this month.
Infantino defended the country’s immigration policy and praised the government for bringing migrants to work.
« We in Europe are closing our borders and we’re not allowing hardly any workers from these countries, who obviously earn very low incomes, to work legally in our countries, » Infantino said. « If Europe really cared about the fate of these people, these young people, then Europe could also do like Qatar.
« But give them a job. Give them a future. Give them some hope. But this one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy. »
Reforms made, concerns persist
Qatar is ruled by a hereditary Emir who has absolute control over all government decisions and follows an ultra-conservative form of Islam known as Wahhabism. In recent years, Qatar has transformed itself following the natural gas boom of the 1990s, but it has faced internal pressures to stay true to its Islamic heritage and Bedouin roots.
Under intense scrutiny from the international community, Qatar has enacted a number of labor reforms in recent years that have been hailed by Equidem and other rights groups. But advocates say abuse is still widespread and workers have few avenues of redress.
Infantino, however, continued to hit the Qatari government’s talking points of deflecting criticism to the West.
« What we Europeans have been doing for 3,000 years, we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start lecturing people in morality, » said Infantino, who left Switzerland last year. to live in Doha before the World Cup.
Human rights are not a « culture war »
In response to his comments, human rights group Amnesty International said Infantino « dismisses legitimate human rights criticism » by dismissing the price paid by migrant workers to make the tournament possible and the responsibility of the FIFA towards him.
“Demands for equality, dignity and compensation cannot be treated as some kind of culture war – these are universal human rights that FIFA has pledged to uphold in its own statutes,” said Steve Cockburn, head of economic and social justice at Amnesty.
A televised speech by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, on October 25 marked a turning point in the country’s approach to any criticism, saying it had been « subjected to an unprecedented campaign to which no host country has ever faced ».
Since then, government ministers and senior World Cup hosts have dismissed some European criticism as racism and called for the creation of a compensation fund for the families of migrant workers as a publicity stunt.
« We seem to forget »
Qatar has often been criticized for its laws that criminalize homosexuality, limit certain freedoms for women and do not offer citizenship to migrants.
« How many homosexuals have been prosecuted in Europe? » Infantino said, echoing previous comments that European countries had similar laws until recent generations. « Sorry, that was a process. We seem to forget. »
In one region of Switzerland, women didn’t get the right to vote until the 1990s, he said.
He also chastised European and North American countries which he said have not opened their borders to welcome the girls and women playing football whom FIFA and Qatar helped to leave Afghanistan last year. .
Albania was the only country to commit, he said.
Seven of the 13 European teams at the World Cup have said their captains will wear an anti-discrimination armband in matches in defiance of a FIFA rule, taking part in a Dutch campaign called ‘One Love’.
FIFA declined to comment publicly on the matter in any meaningful way, or on European football associations’ urge for FIFA to support a compensation fund for the families of migrant workers.