Ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, FIFA president Gianni Infantino launched an explosive hour-long tirade against Western critics of the controversial tournament.
Infantino, head of world soccer’s governing body, looked scowling as he addressed hundreds of reporters in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday.
“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.”
Despite the opening match starting on November 20, Infantino barely spoke about football and focused his attention on what he called the “hypocrisy” of Western criticism.
In an extraordinary press conference, Infantino appeared exhausted. He spent a lot of time defending FIFA’s 2010 decision to award the World Cup to Qatar. A controversial decision made while he was not president of the governing body.
This tournament will be a historic event, the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East, but it is also mired in controversy, with much of the build-up to human rights, from the deaths of migrant workers and the conditions many endured in Qatar, LGBTQ and women’s rights. .
Infantino, while acknowledging that things are not perfect, said some of the criticism was “deeply unfair” and accused the West of double standards.
The Italian opened the press conference with an hour-long speech, telling reporters he knows how it feels to be discriminated against, saying he was bullied as a child because he had red hair and freckles.
“Today I feel like Qatar. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. I feel gay today. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel like a migrant worker,” he said in front of a stunned audience.
“I feel this, all this, because what I saw and what they told me, since I don’t read, otherwise I would be depressed, I think.
“What I saw 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 abandon the country after the tournament. He suggested that he thought some Western journalists would forget about those issues.
“We must invest in education, to give them a better future, to give them hope. We all need to be educated,” he said.
“Reforms and changes require time. This lasted for hundreds of years in our countries in Europe. Everything takes time, the only way to get results is engagement […] not by shouting.”
Infantino also addressed questions surrounding a last-minute decision to ban alcohol sales at the eight stadiums that will host the tournament’s 64 matches. In a FIFA statement released on Friday, the governing body said alcohol would be sold in fan zones and licensed venues.
The Muslim country is considered very conservative and strictly regulates the sale and use of alcohol.
In September, Qatar said 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.
Let me first assure you that every decision that is made in this World Cup is a joint decision of Qatar and FIFA, he said. “Every decision is discussed, debated and made collectively.”
“There it will be […] over 200 places where you can buy alcohol in Qatar and over 10 fan zones, where over 100,000 people can drink alcohol at the same time.
“I mean personally, if you can’t drink beer for three hours a day, you’ll survive.”
“Especially because actually the same rules apply in France or Spain, or Portugal or Scotland, where beer is now not allowed in stadiums,” he added.
“It seems to have become a big deal because it’s a Muslim country, or I don’t know why.”
Infantino ended the press conference by insisting that everyone will be safe in Qatar, amid concerns from the LGBTQ community.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and punishable by up to three years in prison, but the FIFA president has promised that this is 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 confirmed, and I can confirm, that everyone is welcome,” Infantino said.
“This is a clear request from FIFA. Everyone must be welcome, everyone who comes to Qatar is welcome regardless of their religion, race, sexual orientation, belief. Everyone is welcome. That was our request and the Qatari state complies with that request,” Infantino said.