Gianni Infantino, the president of FIFA, has hit out at European critics of the Qatar World Cup and told western media to stop “giving moral lessons to people”.
The tournament has been dogged by controversy due to concerns surrounding the country’s human rights record, particularly its treatment of migrant workers and the LGBTQ+ community.
But Infantino, speaking on the eve of the tournament ahead of Qatar’s curtain-raising game against Ecuador on Sunday, hit back at western critics.
“We have told many, many lessons from some Europeans, from the western world,” Infantino said.
“I think for what we Europeans have been doing the last 3,000 years we should be apologising for next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.”
Infantino, who recently sent a letter to all 32 competing federations urging them to “focus on football”, urged cooperation.
“Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arabic. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel (like) a migrant worker,” he said.
“Of course, I am not Qatari, I am not an Arab, I am not African, I am not gay, I am not disabled.
“But I feel like it, because I know what it means to be discriminated, to be 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. Don’t start accusing, fighting, insulting, you start engaging. And this is what we should be doing.”
Amnesty International published a report last month saying that although progress has been made by the Qatari state to protect migrant workers, weak regulations and a lack of enforcement means there is “still a long way to go”.
The Guardian reported in February 2021 that 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangaldesh and Sri Lanka had lost their lives in Qatar, but the host nation said those figures were misleading because not all the deaths were of people working on World Cup-related projects.
“If Europe really cares 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. Give them some future, some hope,” Infantino said.
“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.
“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.”
On concerns about the safety of fans from the LGBTQ+ community, Infantino said: “I can confirm that everyone is welcome. If you hear a person here or there who says the opposite, it is not the opinion of the country, it is certainly not the opinion of FIFA.”
On Friday it was announced that beer sales would be banned from stadiums, two days before the World Cup starts.
The late U-turn came as a surprise, but Infantino was unconcerned.
“If this is the biggest issue we have for the World Cup then I will resign immediately and go to the beach to relax,” he said.
“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.”
FIFA also announced on Saturday that a campaign will be launched during the tournament that will see captain’s armbands display a range of messages.
The message will change round-by-round:
- Group stage, round one: #FootballUnitesTheWorld
- Group stage, round two: #SaveThePlanet
- Group stage, round three: #ProtectChildren #ShareTheMeal
- Round of 16: #EducationForAll #FootballForSchools
- Quarter-finals: #NoDiscrimination
- Semi-finals: #BeActive #BringTheMoves
- Third-place and Final: Football Is Joy, Passion, Hope, Love and Peace – #FootballUnitesTheWorld