In a bizarre hour-long monologue, Infantino lashed out at the World Cup’s critics for hypocrisy, claimed “nobody cares” about disabled people, and compared his own childhood experience of being bullied to the suffering of workers and others at the hands of the Qatari regime.
Qatar has been widely criticised for exploiting untold thousands of migrant workers, mostly lured from impoverished parts of south Asia, to build the stadiums and infrastructure to host the World Cup. Among a slew of human rights abuses, such as brutal working conditions, wage theft and illegal recruitment fees, several thousand labourer deaths during the past decade remain unexplained, and the Emirate state has shown little urgency on the issue.
In addition, Qatar’s suitability to host the tournament has been questioned because the conservative Islamic nation outlaws homosexuality between men and LGBT+ fan groups have warned they would not feel safe in the country.
Ahead of the opening game of the tournament on Sunday, Infantino – who was re-elected this week as president of football’s governing body unopposed – made an extraordinary attack on those criticisms, doubling down on Fifa’s choice of Qatar as World Cup hosts.
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 the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.”
Infantino then appeared to conflate his own life experience, when his family migrated from Italy to Switzerland during his childhood, with the suffering of many migrant workers and other groups in Qatar. He said: “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. 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 defended Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers by pointing out that they earn more being exploited in the Middle East than they would at home in countries like India, Bangladesh and Nepal. He also highlighted recent labour reforms in Qatar. This included the abolition of the Kafala system, which strangled worker rights, but human rights groups say these issues remain prevalent despite new legislation.
On the concerns of LGBT+ groups and their safety in the country, 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.”
He said Qatar and capital city Doha will be ready to host the “best World Cup ever”.
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