- Fifa President Gianni Infantino has accused critics of the human rights record of the World Cup hosts Qatar of “hypocrisy”.
- He also said he identifies with marginalized groups.
- Mr Infantino’s comments sparked backlash from human rights activists.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino on Saturday accused critics of World Cup hosts Qatar of hypocrisy, adding that engagement is the only way to improve human rights.
In lengthy and sometimes angry opening speeches at a press conference on the eve of the tournament’s start, Mr Infantino closed the door on the host country’s European critics on the problems faced by migrant workers .
“Today I feel like a Qatari. Today I feel like an Arab. Today I feel like an African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel handicapped. Today I feel (like) a tramp. Today I feel (like) a migrant worker,” he said.
“I feel all of this because what I’m seeing … brings me back to my personal story.”
Mr. Infantino then explained how, as a child, he was raised by migrant workers in Switzerland and bullied because of his accent, red hair and freckles.
“Of course I’m not Qatari, I’m not Arab, I’m not African, I’m not gay, I’m not disabled,” he later added.
“But I feel like it because I know what it means to be discriminated against and bullied as a foreigner in a foreign country.”
Mr Infantino said that as a European he had “difficulty understanding the criticism”. .
“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,” he said.
“We need to invest to help these people, in education and to give them a better future and more hope. We should all educate ourselves, many things are not perfect, but reform and change take time.
“This one-sided moral teaching is pure hypocrisy.
“It’s not easy to take the criticism of a decision made 12 years ago. Doha are ready, Qatar are ready and of course it will be the best World Cup ever.”
Mr Infantino’s comments sparked backlash from human rights activists.
“By brushing aside legitimate criticisms of human rights, Gianni Infantino rejects the enormous price paid by migrant workers to make his flagship tournament possible – and FIFA’s responsibility for it,” said Steve Cockburn of Amnesty International.
He said demands for just compensation should not be “treated as some sort of culture war.”
Nick McGeehan, of migrant workers’ advocacy group Fair Square, described Mr Infantino’s comments as “crass” and “clumsy”.
Qatar has said it is a welcoming country and has denied allegations .
Mr. Infantino also defended Iran’s presence at the tournament despite the current spate of deadly protests unleashed there in police custody Sept.
“It’s not two regimes playing against each other, it’s not two ideologies playing against each other, it’s two football teams,” he said.
“If we don’t at least have football to bring us together… what world are we going to live in?” 80 million people live in Iran, are they all bad? Are they all monsters?”
Address decision two from Friday Mr Infantino said FIFA had failed to persuade the Qatar government to stand by the original decision to allow it.
“We tried, and that’s why I’m giving you the late policy change,” he said. “We’ve been trying to see if it’s possible.”
Mr Infantino said he had received assurances from the highest level of the Qatari government that LGBTIQ+ people would be welcome in the country for the World Cup.
Same-sex relationships are illegal and carry a penalty of up to three years in prison in Qatar. Some football stars have raised concerns about the rights of fans traveling to the event, particularly LGBTIQ+ people and women, who face discrimination from rights groups under Qatari law.
At the extraordinary close of the press conference, Bryan Swanson, FIFA Director of Media Relations, took the microphone to defend Mr Infantino.
“I’ve seen a lot of criticism of Gianni Infantino since I joined FIFA, especially from the LGBTI community,” he said.
“I sit here in a privileged position on a global stage as a gay man here in Qatar. He’s received assurances that everyone will be welcome… Just because Gianni Infantino isn’t gay doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. He cares.”