Gianni Infantino plays his soccer Jesus during weird monologue on Qatar | World Cup 2022

AAn hour after his own pin monologue, delivered from the stage of Doha’s main media center’s vast, tiered amphitheater, Gianni Infantino unexpectedly rose from his seat and spread his arms in crucifixion pose, wrists crooked, head gently to one side inclined . “You can crucify me. That’s what I’m here for. Don’t criticize anyone. Don’t criticize Qatar.” And in that moment, what we were observing became clear. Here he is: Soccer Jesus. Behold, he walks among us.

Doesn’t Football Jesus bleed for you? Doesn’t He accept medals from Vladimir Putin on your behalf? Like the real Jesus, is He not (not literally) being knocked down (not really knocked down) by the stones (not real stones) of the unjust, the heretics, the human rights organizations?

Infantino briefly became Football Mandela shortly thereafter (“Do we want to split further? Do we want to spit on others because they look different?” asked the man who has campaigned for a de facto racially segregated society). But above all, he was the football Jesus. And what is really clear, which no one should doubt, is that Football Jesus had a message in Doha. And that message was… well, what exactly?

Infantino spoke for a total of one and a half hours. At times the spectacle was so grippingly grotesque that one did not want to breathe or cough for fear of breaking the magic.

Because this speech was also Infantino’s moment. That was his Imagine, his I Have a Dream, his Earth Song, his Now We Move on to Liars. With this screed of whimpering Imperial discontent, I declare this World Cup open.

In fact, however, Infantino’s appearance between the quotation marks and the killer lines was something far more disturbing. That was the sound of a man who seems not only tired and angry, but strangely hollowed out, who has lived near death and corruption at the hands of others for so long that it has started to rot him like a man from the inside dead fish.

This is a World Cup like no other. For the last 12 years the Guardian has been reporting on the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is gathered on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football home page for those who want to go deeper into the issues beyond the pitch.

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This is a World Cup like no other. For the past 12 years, the Guardian has covered the issues surrounding Qatar 2022, from corruption and human rights abuses to the treatment of migrant workers and discriminatory laws. The best of our journalism is compiled on our dedicated Qatar: Beyond the Football homepage for those who want to delve deeper into issues off the field.

The Guardian’s coverage goes well beyond what’s happening on the field. Support our investigative journalism today.

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The opening speech will make headlines. Infantino strode to his dais with an air of grandiose feigned humility, paused, allowed the silence to fall, and then shared his feelings. “Today I feel like a Qatari. Today I feel Arabic. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel handicapped. Today I feel [like] a migrant worker”.

It’s tempting to marvel at the virtuosity here. Accused of betraying the rights of various minority groups to only advance the interests of the powerful, within three short seconds Infantino wore a gay face, he wore an African face, he wore a disabled face.

Most cynically, the Fifa President dressed in the clothes of a deceased migrant worker who was killed building this £4billion ATM. Later, when explaining his fight against prejudice as a white man in Switzerland, he waved his own red hair and freckles like a magician triumphantly pulling a rabbit out of a melon.

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It was a pathetic spectacle, of course—not to mention short-sighted, tin-eared, and oddly lost. On both sides, Infantino basically talked a lot of horse shit. There will be more comprehensive fact checks on the many half-truths and misleading perspectives that are being disseminated here. Some stood out.

At one point, Infantino appeared to be saying that Qatar offers hope and succor to the world’s poor and desperate people, while Europe closes its borders and refuses to help. There are a great many things that are wrong with Britain. But it’s also a long-standing complaint that Qatar is adamantly opposed to helping asylum seekers and refugees. Last year Qatar took in just 197 refugees despite having war on its doorstep and being one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Zambia took 75,000. Britain took 137,000. Infantino isn’t just faking here, he’s just plain wrong.

There was a lot more of this stuff. Infantino claimed his own trip to Iran brought peace and tolerance to the nation. “If a few thousand women in Iran are happier because of me, then I’ll take any criticism,” he coaxed, which will surely be interesting information for women in embattled, brutally patriarchal Iran.

He boasted about FIFA’s new human rights restrictions on World Cup bids. “So could Qatar bid to host now?” He was asked. “Yes, of course, because the World Cup is open to everyone,” Infantino replied directly.

It’s times like these that you see his thin but tenacious talent, the thing that brought him to this stage, the feel of a giant marzipan man swelling into whatever shape fits at the moment, sliding under the door out of reach and the Contours of his changing face – marzipan concern, marzipan defiance – as it turns from side to side.

He made some legitimate points. Fifa’s main argument is that things are not perfect in Qatar, but they are better than they were. And that no one but Fifa has dealt with these issues, which is true ignoring everyone else who has been dealing with these issues for years. But the World Cup undoubtedly made a difference.

He is also right that the cancellation of beer sales within the stadium complex is not such a big issue in itself. The fat end of the wedge is frankly already ahead of us. Drinking beer is not a human right, not least in an Islamic country. When the hosts are uncomfortable, it’s honestly difficult to fight back whenever that arises.

All that aside, the base note of this extraordinary show was anger alongside the false worry and cod statesman stuff. Infantino is clearly angry with his critics, angry that this thing cannot be bent to his will. And by the end it had become immensely compelling to see someone so blind to their own contortions, so shamelessly and blatantly losing touch with their own spectacle.

Infantino announced at one point that he feels “200% in control” of this World Championship, which sounds like someone saying when his World Championship rears up and gallops away in a creak. Not least when this World Cup is already plagued by sponsorship strikes, postponed dates and constant noise.

This is the most alarming part of Gianni’s song, the Infantino monologues. For all its stupidity and toxic spin, one fact remains. That person up there, corporate Spartacus, with his gay African migrant call to arms, is actually in charge of this show, custodian of this common sporting gem. The global game, always such a faithful reflection of global times, has seldom seemed so broken, so loose on its hinges, so out of control.

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