Gianni Infantino said he feels gay. that he feels like a woman. That he feels like a migrant worker. He lectured Europeans for criticizing Qatar’s human rights record and defended the host country’s last-minute decision to ban beer from World Cup stadiums.
The FIFA president gave an hour-long speech on the eve of the opening match of the World Cup, and then spent about 45 minutes answering questions from the media about the actions of the government of Qatar and a wide range of other topics.
“Today I feel Qatari,” Infantino said at the start of his first World Cup news conference on Saturday. “Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel migrant worker.
Infantino later hit back at a reporter who observed that he had left women out of his unusual announcement.
“I feel like a woman,” replied the FIFA president.
Qatar has faced criticism since 2010, when it was chosen by FIFA to host the world’s biggest football tournament.
SeeWhy is FIFA’s 2022 Qatar World Cup so controversial?
Migrant laborers building Qatar’s World Cup stadiums often worked long hours in harsh conditions and were subject to discrimination, wage theft and other abuses as their employers avoided accountability, London-based rights group Equidem released this month. said in the 75-page report.
Infantino defended the country’s immigration policy and praised the government for putting migrants to work.
“We are in Europe, we close our borders and we allow practically no workers from those countries to work legally in our countries, who obviously earn very little income ” “If Europe would really care about the fate of these people, these young people, Europe could do the same thing as Qatar.
“But give them some work. Give them some future. Give them some hope. But giving this moral-lesson, one-sided, it’s just hypocrisy.
Qatar is ruled by a hereditary Emir, who has absolute authority over all government decisions, and follows an ultra-conservative form of Islam known as Wahhabism.
In recent years, Qatar has transformed following a natural gas boom in the 1990s, but it has faced pressure from within to remain true to its Islamic heritage and Bedouin roots.
Under heavy international scrutiny, Qatar has implemented a number of labor reforms in recent years, which have been praised by Equidem and other rights groups. But advocates say the abuses are still widespread and there are few avenues for redress for workers.
However, Infantino continued to hit out at talk of turning criticism of the Qatari government back towards the West.
“We Europeans should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start giving moral lessons to people for what they have been doing for the last 3,000 years,” said Infantino, who moved from Switzerland last year to be in Doha ahead of the World Cup. “
In response to his comments, the human rights group Amnesty International said that Infantino was “circumventing legitimate human rights criticisms” by dismissing the price paid by migrant workers to make the tournament possible, and FIFA’s responsibility for it.
Steve Cockburn, Amnesty’s head of economic and social justice, said: “The demands for equality, dignity and compensation cannot be treated as some kind of culture war – they are universal human rights, which FIFA has sought to respect in its laws.” Committed to.”
See World Cup 2022: How to watch, who is favored to win and everything else you need to know
A televised speech on 25 October by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, marked a turning point in the country’s approach to any criticism, claiming that it had been “subject to an unprecedented campaign that no host has ever faced”. The country never did.”
Since then, government ministers and senior World Cup organizing staff 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.
What about Europe?
Qatar has often been criticized for laws that criminalize homosexuality, limit certain freedoms for women and do not grant citizenship to expatriates.
“How many gay people have been prosecuted in Europe?” Infantino reiterated previous comments that European countries had similar laws until recent generations. “Sorry, it was a process. We tend to forget.
He reminded that in one region of Switzerland women got the right to vote only in the 1990s.
He also rebuked European and North American countries that he said had not opened their borders to welcome girls and women playing soccer that FIFA and Qatar worked with to help leave Afghanistan last year.
Albania was the only country that stepped up, he said.
Seven of Europe’s 13 teams at the World Cup said their captains would wear anti-discrimination armbands at games in defiance of a FIFA rule, taking part in a Dutch campaign called “One Love”.
FIFA has declined to comment publicly on that issue, or on European football federations’ urging for FIFA to support a compensation fund for migrant workers’ families.
The counterattack came on Saturday.
FIFA, in partnership with various UN agencies, now has its own armband designs with more general slogans. The armbands for group games say: “FootballUnitesTheWorld,” “SaveThePlanet,” “ProtectChildren,” and “ShareTheMeal.”
In quarterfinal games, “no discrimination” would be used.
Not good enough, the German football federation said a few hours later, having decided to stick with the heart-shaped, multicolored “One Love” armband logo.
FIFA also wants to create a legacy fund from its revenue linked to this year’s World Cup – and will let its critics, or anyone else, contribute.
“And those who invest a certain amount will be part of the board that can decide where the money goes,” Infantino said.
Legacy funds from previous World Cups went directly to soccer in the host country – $100 million from FIFA to South Africa in 2010 and Brazil in 2014. Some of the money was spent on new vehicles for officials and on even more opaque projects.
Two priorities this time around for global projects are education and “Labour Centers of Excellence” in partnership with the UN-backed International Labor Organization.
British media reported this week that among fans wearing England shirts and cheering outside the team hotel were people from India who live and work in Qatar.
It followed reports of nearly 1,500 fans of Qatar’s project paying expenses to travel to the World Cup for 31 visiting teams, singing at the opening ceremony on Sunday and staying to post positive social media content about the host country. did.
This fueled a long-standing story that Qatar pays people to be sports fans.
“You know what it is? It’s racism. It’s pure racism,” Infantino said of the criticism about the England cheer squad. “Everybody in the world has a right to cheer for who they want. “
Infantino spoke knowing that he would be unopposed for re-election as FIFA president in March.
“Unfortunately for some of you,” he told reporters on Saturday, “it looks like I’ll be here for another four years.”
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