FIFA chief accuses Qatar critics of hypocrisy ahead of World Cup – SABC News

FIFA president Gianni Infantino on Saturday accused critics of World Cup host Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers as hypocritical, adding that engagement was the only way to improve human rights.

In lengthy, and sometimes angry, opening remarks at a pre-tournament press conference, Infantino lashed out at European critics of the host nation on issues of migrant workers and LGBT rights.

“I am European. For what we have done for 3,000 years around the world, we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we teach moral lessons,” he said.

“It is difficult for me to understand the criticism. We must invest in helping these people, in education and giving them a better future and more hope. We all have to learn, many things are not perfect, but reforms and changes take time.

“This one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy,” he said.

“It is not easy to accept criticism of a decision that was made 12 years ago. Doha is ready, Qatar is ready, and of course it will be the best World Cup ever.”

Infantino drew on his own experience as a child of migrant workers growing up in Switzerland, saying he was bullied for being Italian and for having red hair and freckles.

“I know what discrimination is (against), I know what bullying is,” he said.

“What are you doing? You’re getting involved, that’s what we have to do… The only way to get results is to get involved.

“I think the changes that happened in Qatar maybe wouldn’t have happened, at least not at the same rate (without the World Cup). Obviously we need to keep the pressure on, obviously we need to try to do better.”

Infantino’s statements caused a violent reaction from human rights activists.

“By rejecting legitimate human rights criticism, Gianni Infantino is rejecting the huge price paid by migrant workers to make his flagship tournament possible, and FIFA’s responsibility for it,” said Amnesty International’s Steve Cockburn.

Cockburn said the demands for fair compensation should not be seen as some kind of culture war.

Nick McGeehan of migrant worker advocacy group Fair Square called Infantino’s comments “rude” and “clumsy”.

Qatar has said it is a hospitable country that does not discriminate against people and has rejected allegations of ill-treatment of workers.

Infantino also defended Iran’s presence at the tournament despite the current wave of deadly protests sparked by the death of a woman in police custody in September.

“It’s not two regimes playing against each other, it’s not two ideologies, it’s two football teams,” he said.

“If we don’t have at least football to unite us… what kind of world will we live in?” Iran has 80 million people, are they all bad? Are they all monsters?’


Referring to Friday’s decision to ban the sale of alcoholic beer in stadiums during the tournament, Infantino said FIFA had failed to convince the Qatari government to stick with the original decision to allow it.

“We tried, and that’s why I’m giving you a late policy change,” he said. “We tried to see if it was possible.”

Infantino said he had received assurances from the highest levels of the Qatari government that LGBT people would be welcome in the country at the World Cup.

Same-sex relationships are illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison in Qatar. Some soccer stars have raised concerns about the rights of fans attending the event, particularly LGBT+ people and women, who rights groups say Qatar’s laws discriminate against.

In an extraordinary end to the press conference, Brian Swanson, FIFA’s director of media relations, took the microphone to defend Infantino.

“I have seen a lot of criticism of Gianni Infantino since he joined FIFA, especially from the LGBTI community,” he said.

“I sit here in a privileged position on the world stage as a gay man here in Qatar. He got assurances that they would be happy for everyone… Just because Gianni Infantino isn’t gay doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. He doesn’t care.”

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