Fifa President Gianni Infantino has accused the West of “hypocrisy” in its coverage of problems in World Cup host country Qatar.
Infantino gave a press conference on the eve of Qatar’s tournament opener against Ecuador and spoke for almost an hour before answering questions.
Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup was marred by criticism of the country’s record on human rights and the treatment of migrant workers.
“Today I have very strong feelings,” Infantino began. “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.
“I’m not Qatari, African, gay, disabled and I’m not really a migrant worker, but I know what it means to be discriminated against and bullied as a foreigner in a foreign country. As a kid at school, I was bullied because I had red hair and freckles. I was bullied for that.”
It’s difficult to report exactly how many migrant workers have died in the 12 years since Qatar was awarded World Cup rights, but the number is in the thousands.
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The vast majority of Qatar’s workforce is made up of more than two million migrant workers from countries such as India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines.
Infantino continued: “I am European. For what we’ve been doing around the world for 3,000 years, we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we teach moral lessons.
“If Europe really cares about the fate of these people, they can create legal avenues – as Qatar has done – where a number of these workers can come to Europe to work. Give them some future, some hope.
“I have trouble understanding the criticism. We must invest to help these people, in education and give them a better future and more hope. We should all educate ourselves, many things are not perfect, but reforms and changes take time.
“This one-sided moral teaching is pure hypocrisy. I wonder why nobody recognizes the progress that has been made here since 2016.”
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Infantino has previously spoken about the rights of migrant workers in Qatar. In May, the Swiss-Italian said FIFA helped bring “dignity and pride” to migrant workers through World Cup infrastructure projects.
He added that FIFA was “proud” “to have been able to change the conditions for these 1.5 million people”.
Infantino, meanwhile, will stand unopposed for a third term as FIFA President next spring.
The next FIFA Congress will be held in Kigali, Rwanda and FIFA confirmed on Thursday that Infantino has no challengers in the position he has held since 2016.
Infantino has been criticized for “diversion” and “culture war” tactics
Amnesty International has criticized Infantino, accusing him of rejecting human rights criticism and treating demands for equality as part of a “culture war”.
Responding to Infantino’s media address, Steve Cockburn, Amnesty’s head of economic and social justice, said: “Gianni Infantino brushes aside legitimate criticisms of human rights and rejects the enormous price migrant workers have to pay to make his flagship tournament possible – as well that of FIFA responsible for it.
“Demands for equality, dignity and redress cannot be treated as some kind of culture clash – they are universal human rights that FIFA has pledged 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. This cannot be mere window dressing… ensuring that this fund is used to compensate workers and their families directly.”
Nicholas McGeehan, director of human rights organization FairSquare, described Infantino’s comments as “as crass as they are awkward” and said the tournament’s public relations strategy was “distraction and whataboutery”.
Gianni Infantino’s letter about the World Cup is deplorable, irrational and amazingly stupid
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