FIFA president Gianni Infantino hit out at criticism of Qatar from Europe on the eve of the World Cup.
The game’s global governing body has been attacked for its decision to take the finals to Qatar, where the treatment of migrant workers and the rights of LGBTQ+ people have been in the spotlight.
Ahead of the opening game of the tournament on Sunday, Infantino said: ‘We have told many, many lessons from some Europeans, from the western world.
‘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 added: ‘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.
‘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.
Gianni Infantino hit out at critics of the host nation before appearing to compare his own experience to that of the marginalised
‘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.’
Infantino appeared to suggest that Europe should ‘do as Qatar’ did in letting in migrant workers, suggesting that they did not particularly care about their fate unless they did so.
‘If Europe would really care about the destiny of these young people,” Infantino said in reference to the migrant workers. ‘Europe could do as Qatar did, create some legal channels, where at least a number, a percentage of these workers could come.’
‘Lower revenues … but give them some hope, give them some future. 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.
‘This moral lesson giving, one-sided, it’s just hypocrisy.’
It has been reported by a number of sources that up to 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since preparations for the World Cup began. Qatar has built stadia, hotels, a deep-sea port, an expansion to the airport and an entire new metro system in preparation for the tournament.
Infantino claimed he addressed the matter of migrant workers ‘straight on’ when he arrived three years ago.
‘I came here three years ago and addressed the matter of migrant workers straight on, from my very first meeting,’ he said.
Infantino earlier this year landed himself in hot water with human rights bodies such as Amnesty and FairSquare when he told the European Council in Strasbourg that only ‘three’ migrant workers had died. That particular number appears to come from the Qatari authorities themselves, traced back to their own Workers Welfare Progress Reports. It is a number that has been highly contested by the likes of Amnesty.
Similarly, he also told the same body in Strasbourg that FIFA’s controversial plans for a biennial World Cup could be decisive in the refugee crisis.
‘We need to give hope to Africans so they don’t need to cross the Mediterranean in order to find, maybe, a better life but more probably death in the sea.
‘We need to give opportunities and we need to give dignity, not by giving charity but by allowing the rest of the world to participate,’ he said.
It is the latest in a series of controversial incidents that have marred the build up to the tournament. On Friday, it was reported – and then confirmed by the relevant parties themselves – that beer would no longer be sold in stadiums, potentially throwing FIFA into a major legal dispute with one of their biggest sponsors, Budweiser, with whom they have a multi-million pound contract.
It was announced beer and other alcoholic drinks would still be available in the corporate seats.
Meanwhile, seemingly after a string of negative stories surrounding the ploy, fans travelling to the country as part of the Fan Leader Programme – in which supporters from each of the 32 nations were involved – have been told that their daily allowance of £60 has been cut.
According to The Guardian, the allowance was cut just as supporters were getting ready to travel to the country. Many were relying on it as their daily food and drink budget.