FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s nearly hour-long speech on the eve of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar was called “crass” and “insulting” to migrant workers by human rights groups.
In an explosive monologue at the start of a Doha news conference, Infantino – the head of world football’s governing body – accused Western critics of Qatar’s human rights record of hypocrisy.
“What we Europeans have done for the last 3,000 years, we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start teaching moral lessons,” he said. “Reform and change take time. It lasted hundreds of years in our countries in Europe. It takes time everywhere, the only way to get results is through commitment… not shouting.”
The tournament, which begins on Sunday, is the first World Cup to be staged in the Middle East, but controversy has been raised, with much of the build-up focusing on human rights, the deaths of migrant workers and the conditions many have in Qatar for LGBTQ people and women’s rights suffered.
Although Infantino admitted things were not perfect, he said some criticism was “deeply unfair” and accused the West of double standards.
Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s director of economic and social justice, said in a statement: “By brushing aside legitimate human rights criticism, Gianni Infantino dismisses the huge price migrant workers have to pay to make his flagship tournament possible – as well FIFA’s responsibility for it.
He added: “Demands for equality, dignity and redress cannot be treated as some kind of culture clash – they are universal human rights that FIFA has committed to uphold in its own statutes.
“If there is a tiny glimmer of hope, it is Infantino’s announcement that FIFA will set up a legacy fund after the World Cup. However, this cannot be mere window dressing. If FIFA is to salvage anything from this tournament, they must announce that they will invest a significant portion of the $6 billion the organization will earn from this tournament and ensure that this fund is used to support workers and to compensate their families directly.”
Nicholas McGeehan, director of FairSquare, a human rights non-profit organisation, said in a statement: “Infantinino’s comments were as blatant as they were clumsy and suggest that the FIFA President is getting his arguments directly from the Qatari authorities.
“Distraction and whataboutery have always been at the heart of Qatar’s PR efforts to defend its ranking failures and now the FIFA President has done their job for them.”
And Mustafa Qadri, executive director of international human rights organization Equidem, also said in a statement: “History will not judge this moment kindly. Infantino’s speech was an insult to the thousands of hard-working men and women who made the World Cup possible.
“He had the perfect opportunity to recognize that thousands of women and men came from the poorest countries to the richest countries only to face deception, exploitation and discrimination.
“Every day workers contact Equidem about unpaid wages, abuse and fear of speaking out for fear of employer retaliation. There is a solution here: Infantino should set up a comprehensive compensation fund and urge Qatar to set up an independent center for migrant workers so that workers have a safe space to raise grievances and get the support they need.”
The Guardian reported last year that 6,500 South Asian migrant workers have died in Qatar since the country won the 2010 World Cup, most of whom were involved in dangerous, low-wage work, often in extreme heat.
The report did not link all 6,500 deaths to World Cup infrastructure projects and was not independently verified by CNN.
Hassan Al Thawadi – the man in charge of Qatar’s preparations – told CNN’s Becky Anderson last year that the Guardian’s figure of 6,500 was a “sensational headline” that was misleading and that the report lacked context.
A government official has told CNN that there have been three work-related deaths and 37 non-work-related deaths in stadiums. In a statement, the official said the Guardian’s figures were “inaccurate” and “wildly misleading”.
Eight new stadiums rose out of the desert, and the Gulf state expanded its airport, built new hotels, railroad tracks and highways. All were built by migrant workers who, according to Amnesty International, make up 90% of the workforce in a population of nearly three million.
Since 2010, when Qatar was awarded the World Cup, migrant workers have faced late or unpaid wages, forced labour, long hours in hot weather, intimidation by employers and the inability to leave their jobs due to the country’s sponsorship system human rights organizations identified.
Norwegian Football President Lise Klaveness told CNN’s Amanda Davies that FIFA has an opportunity to depoliticize the World Cup but that Infantino “did the opposite” with his comments on Saturday.
In April, Klaveness delivered a scathing speech in which he called the decision to allow Qatar to host the World Cup “unacceptable” and called on FIFA to do more to defend its human rights principles.
She said that Infantino’s monologue before the first game showed the pressure he was under.
“I think he went too far in reducing reasonable criticism to Western double standards,” she said. “Polarizing West against East is a bit dangerous. I think it’s very important that we give this feedback that we have to collect from West and East.”
She added: “It’s a valid criticism, not of Qatar itself, but of FIFA and international football federations.”