Europe should apologise for “what it has been doing for 3,000 years” instead of offering “moral lessons”, FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in a powerful speech on the eve of the World Cup in Doha on Saturday.
Just a day before the biggest sporting event takes global stage, the top football chief lashed out at Western nations for what he described as “hypocrisy” in media coverage in the lead up to the global tournament, which has in recent weeks morphed into “racism”, according to officials in Doha.
“I am European. For what we have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons,” the FIFA president said in a fiery news conference in the Qatari capital on the eve of the tournament.
The comments on Saturday come as Qatar has continued to face incessant Western scrutiny over its hosting of the World Cup – the first Arab and Muslim nation to do so in the history of the tournament.
“If Europe really care about the destiny of these people, they can create legal channels – like Qatar did – where a number of these workers can come to Europe to work. Give them some future, some hope.
“I have difficulties understanding the criticism. We have to invest in helping 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 takes time.
“It is not easy to take the critics of a decision that was made 12 years ago. Qatar is ready, it will be the best World Cup ever.”
While addressing some 400 journalists present at the conference on Saturday, the FIFA president said: “You want to criticise. You can crucify me. I’m here for that. Don’t criticise anyone.”
“Don’t criticise Qatar. Let people enjoy this World Cup.”
Western hypocrisy addressed
Highlighting his roots as the son of migrant workers from Italy, Infantino, said the Gulf country has made progress in improving the rights of migrant workers.
“I came here six years ago and addressed the matter of migrant workers straight on, in my very first meeting,” he highlighted.
“How many of these European or Western business companies, who earned millions and millions from Qatar and other countries in the region – billions every year – how many of them addressed the rights of migrant workers with the authorities?”
“I have the answer for you. None of them because if you change the legislation it means less profit. But we did, and FIFA generates much less than any of these companies from Qatar,” the FIFA head said, adding “the one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy.”
Further emboldening the west’s hypocrisy, Infantino took on the confusion and mainly western anger around the abrupt decision to ban alcohol in stadiums saying: “There will be many fan zones where you can buy alcohol in Qatar and fans can simultaneously drink alcohol. I think if for three hours a day you cannot drink a beer, you will survive.”
“Especially because the same rules apply in France, Spain, Portugal and Scotland. Here it has become a big thing because it is a Muslim country? I don’t know why.”
When questioned about the last-minute alcohol verdict, the Swiss Italian stated that every decision taken during the major tournament is a joint decision between Qatar and FIFA.
Separately at the same press conference, the FIFA chief took on the hypocrisy of some of the countries whose self-interest and agenda is put first.
“I don’t have to defend Qatar, I’m defending football and injustice.We see here many government representatives coming to Qatar. They all come because a country which has just sand and pearls turns out to have something much more, it’s gas. If there was no gas nobody would care.
“Now they all come and they all want something and who is actually caring about the workers. Who? FIFA does, the World Cup does and to be fair to them Qatar does as well.”
Europe’s marred politics was the overarching theme during Saturday’s press conference as the FIFA president touched on many gaps in the region’s history.
“Hundreds of thousands of workers from developing countries come to Qatar and earn many times more [than at home] and help families to survive.”
“They do it in a legal way. We in Europe close our borders. Those who reach Europe or who want to go to Europe have to go through a very difficult journey and survive,” Infantino said.
“If the EU really cared about the destiny of these people, then EU could also do as Qatar did to create some legal channels where at least a percentage of these workers could come to EU … give them some work, give them some future.”
Although homosexuality is illegal in the country, Qatari officials have said, on multiple occasions, that all fans are welcome to attend the major sporting event.
“I have been speaking about this topic with the highest leadership of the country. Several times, not just once. They have confirmed, I can confirm, that everyone is welcome,” the FIFA president said.
When asked about LGBTQ people visiting Qatar, the country’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani told German outlet Faz earlier this month that all public demonstrations of affection, not just those between same-sex partners, are forbidden.
When questioned about prior statements that fans would be permitted to hold hands, the FM responded, “holding hands is not a public display of affection as far as I know.”
As the tournament edges closer, Qatari officials have taken a more head on approach to call out criticism, highlighting apparent angles taken by western media that have widely disregarded progress made on the ground.
Addressing the discrimination, Infantino on Saturday said: “Today I have strong feelings. Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel [like] a migrant worker”.
“Of course I am not Qatari, I am not an Arab, I am not African, I am not gay, I am not disabled. But I feel like it, because I know what it means to be discriminated [against], to be bullied, as a foreigner in a foreign country,” Infantino added.
Last month, Qatar’s Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani said that “no other host nation” has faced this level of criticism.
“Since we won the honour of hosting the World Cup, Qatar has faced an unprecedented campaign that no other host nation has received. And we had handled it at first in good faith while considering some of the criticism positive and beneficial,” Sheikh Tamim told the Shura Council in October.
The amir added that while the criticism has helped Qatar “develop aspects that needed development”, it has continued to rear its ugly head.
Infantino spoke out on the lack of media coverage on the reforms Qatar has undergone and the media’s failure to bring attention to these developments.
“I wonder why nobody recognises the progress that has been made since 2016 [when Infantino became Fifa president]? The kafala system was abolished, minimum wages were introduced, heat protections were put in place.”
“ILO, unions acknowledged this, but media don’t, or some don’t,” he said, referring to the International Labour Organization.
To further make his case on media hypocrisy, Infantino also looked at the topic of disabled population: “I was at an event a few days ago when we explained what we’re doing at this World Cup for disabled people,” Infantino said, adding that there were around 400 journalists at his press conference on Saturday, but just four at that previous event.
“There [are] one billion disabled people in the world,” he said. “One billion disabled people. Nobody cares.”
Addressing some of the aggressive racism that has plagued fan parades taking place across Qatar this week, Infantino said on Saturday: “I am reading that these people don’t look English so they can’t cheer for England, they look like Indians. What is that? Can someone who looks Indian not cheer for England, Spain or Germany? You know what it is? It is racist, pure racist.”
British media reports claim authorities in the Gulf state have paid thousands of migrant workers to take to the streets in a bid to drum up celebrations in the week leading up to the World Cup, questioning the “legitimacy” of South East Asian supporters.
On the ground in Qatar, the ‘paid fans’ allegations have been denounced by football fans who spoke to Doha News.
The Indian population alone exceeds some 750,000 – making up about 25% of the country’s overall population of 2,979,915. While Western media may have missed Qatar’s population statistics in their reporting of the parade, the racist targeting of South East Asian fans has appeared to rear its atrocious head online, with many westerners questioning “where are the real fans?”
Speaking to Sky News earlier this month, Qatar’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani said critics of the World Cup in Qatar are “arrogant” and “cannot accept a small country from the Middle East”.
Similarly, Qatar 2022 CEO Nasser Al Khater said “European countries feel they have a monopoly over the World Cup.”
“Europe has hosted 11 tournaments out of 22 tournaments, of course it refuses that a country like Qatar or an Arab Muslim country hosts a tournament like the World Cup,” Al Khater told Al Jazeera Arabic in a televised interview earlier this month.
Addressing the scrutiny, Al Khater said the anti-Qatar campaign has evolved over the past decade, with aims taken at Qatar size as a geographically small country to its hot summer climate.
“From the start, we have said that this tournament represents all Arabs and is for the entire Arab world, this increases our excitement and our sense of responsibility and increases determination to make this tournament a success,” said Al Khater.
The FIFA president made more bold statements as he slammed the hostile energy surrounding Qatar 2022, saying: “The world is divided enough. We are organising a FIFA World Cup, we’re not organising a war.”
Qatar is due to kick off the Middle East’s first ever World Cup on Sunday.