Gianni Infantino: Explosive tirade from FIFA boss threatens to overshadow World Cup opener


Doha, Qatar
CNN

The World Cup finally gets underway on Sunday after 12 years of questions and criticism about the tournament in Qatar. But even though kick-off is just hours away, the football itself is still being overshadowed by what’s happening off the field.

FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s extraordinary tirade against Western critics of the controversial tournament in an explosive hour-long monologue continues to make headlines around the world. Human rights groups described it as “insane” and an “insult” to migrant workers.

World soccer governing body Infantino looked grim as he addressed hundreds of journalists in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday and began a nearly hour-long press conference in which he accused Western critics of hypocrisy and racism.

“We have been taught many lessons from the Europeans, from the Western world,” he said, referring to criticism of Qatar’s human rights record.

“What we Europeans have been doing for the last 3,000 years, we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start giving moral lessons.”

The tournament will be a historic event, the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East, but it has also been mired in controversy, with much of the event focused on human rights, the death of migrant workers and many conditions. held in Qatar, LGBTQ and women’s rights.

Those involved in the tournament have faced a lot of criticism. Last week, British comedian Joe Lycett questioned David Beckham’s gay icon status as the former England captain and Manchester United star continued to serve as Qatar’s World Cup ambassador.

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Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and punishable by up to three years in prison. A Human Rights Watch report published last month documented cases of Qatari security forces arbitrarily arresting LGBT people and subjecting them to “ill-treatment in custody”.

Colombian singer Maluma, who is featured in the official World Cup anthem, walked out of an interview on Israeli television when asked about the human rights record in the Gulf state.

Infantino addressed questions about the last-minute ban on selling alcohol in stadiums.

With Qatar set to face Ecuador in the first leg at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, Infantino barely talked about soccer at his landmark press conference and focused on what he called the “hypocrisy” of Western criticism.

Infantino told reporters he knows what it feels like to be discriminated against, saying he was bullied as a child for having red hair and freckles.

“Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel like a migrant worker,” he said in front of a stunned audience.

“I feel it, all of it, because of what I’ve seen and what I’ve been told since I don’t read, otherwise I’d be depressed.

“What I have seen brings me back to my personal story. I am the son of migrant workers. My parents worked very hard in difficult situations.

Infantino said progress had been made in Qatar on a number of issues, but insisted that real change would take time, adding that FIFA would not leave the country after the tournament. He stated that he thought some Western journalists would forget about these issues.

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“We need to invest in education to give them a better future, to give them hope. We should all educate ourselves,” he said.

“Reforms and changes take time. In our countries in Europe, it took hundreds of years. Everything takes time, the only way to get results is to commit […] not by shouting.”

Human rights organizations have criticized the FIFA boss and his speech. Nicholas McGeehan, director of the non-profit human rights organization FairSquare, said in a statement: “Infantino’s comments were as rude as they were clumsy and suggest that the FIFA president is getting his talking points directly from the Qatari authorities.

Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s head of economic and social justice, said in a statement: “Abandoning legitimate human rights criticism, Gianni Infantino rejects the huge price paid by migrant workers to make his flagship tournament possible, as well as FIFA’s responsibility for it.

Infantino also addressed questions surrounding the last-minute decision to ban the sale of alcohol in the eight stadiums that will host the tournament’s 64 matches. FIFA said in a statement on Friday that alcohol will be sold in fan zones and licensed venues.

The Muslim country is considered very conservative and strictly regulates the sale and consumption of alcohol.

In September, Qatar announced it would allow ticketed fans to buy alcoholic beer in World Cup stadiums three hours before kick-off and one hour after the final whistle, but not during the match.

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“First of all, let me assure you that every decision that is made in this World Cup is a joint decision between Qatar and FIFA,” he said. “Every decision is discussed, debated and made together.”

“There will be […] more than 200 places where you can buy alcohol in Qatar and more than 10 fan zones where more than 100,000 people can drink alcohol at the same time.

“I personally think if you can’t drink beer for three hours a day, you’ll survive.”

“Especially because effectively the same rules apply in France or Spain, Portugal or Scotland, where beer is now not allowed in stadiums,” he added.

“It seems like it’s becoming a big deal because it’s a Muslim country, or I don’t know why.”

Infantino closed the press conference by insisting that everyone in Qatar will be safe, given the concerns of the LGBTQ community.

Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and punishable by up to three years in prison, but FIFA’s president promised this was a tournament for everyone.

“Let me also mention the LGBT situation. I have discussed this topic with the top leadership of the country several times, not just once. They have confirmed and I can confirm that everyone is welcome,” Infantino said.

“This is a clear demand from FIFA. Everyone must be welcomed, everyone who comes to Qatar is welcome regardless of their religion, race, sexual orientation, belief. Everyone is welcome. This was our demand and the State of Qatar stands by this demand, ” said Infantino.

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