FIFA President Gianni Infantino took aim at European critics of Qatar on the eve of the World Cup in an extraordinary hour-long monologue.
Infantino was criticized on social media for saying ‘today I feel gay’ and ‘today I feel (like) a migrant worker’ at the start of the speech, referring to the discrimination his family was facing as Italian migrants in Switzerland and how he was bullied due to his red hair and freckles.
The rights of the LGBTQ+ community and migrant workers in Qatar were front and center in the years leading up to the final, particularly in Europe, but Infantino pointed to Europe’s own shortcomings on social issues and their Current immigration policies in what was a passionate defense of Qatar’s progress since the final was controversial in 2010.
“We taught many lessons to some Europeans, from the Western world,” he said.
“I am European. I think that for what we Europeans have done for the past 3,000 years, we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start giving people moral lessons.
He added: “We should all educate ourselves. Reform and change take time, it took hundreds of years in our countries of Europe where we think we have reached the top. I wonder if that’s the case.
“The only way to get results is to engage, to dialogue. Not by hammering, by insulting. When your child does something wrong at school and you tell him that you are an idiot, that you are useless and you put him in his room, how do you think his reaction will be?
“If you get involved with him, he’ll recognize it and he’ll get better. I don’t want to give you any life lessons, but what’s happening here is deeply unfair.
“Europe is a heart of multicultural tolerance but even in Europe there are things that are not going well. We should look at ourselves before criticizing others.
Infantino, who answered a series of questions after the lengthy speech, remains adamant that members of the LGBTQ+ community will be safe and welcome in Qatar, despite the country’s laws that criminalize same-sex relations.
“Everyone is welcome. If you are a person who says otherwise, that is not the opinion of the country and certainly not of FIFA,” he said.
“Anyone who comes is welcome, regardless of religion, race, sexual orientation, beliefs. This was our demand and the Qatari state is sticking to this requirement.
Asked if Qatar could move the goalposts on these commitments, citing the late change on the sale of alcohol in stadiums, Infantino replied: “It’s never too late to change, maybe we we will have to change on other subjects, but when it comes to the safety of people, when you talk about LGBT people, everyone’s safety is guaranteed by the highest level in the country.
“That’s the guarantee we gave, and we still give it.”
Infantino’s remarks that he ‘felt gay’ were criticized on social media, but at the end of the briefing FIFA media relations director Bryan Swanson defended the Swiss’ motives.
“I’m sitting here as a gay man in Qatar,” Swanson said.
“We have been assured that everyone is welcome and I believe everyone will be welcome. Just because he’s not gay doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. He cares.
“We care about everyone and are inclusive.”
Human rights group Amnesty International has accused Infantino of shedding light on the extreme suffering endured by the migrant workers who built the tournament’s infrastructure.
Steve Cockburn, head of economic and social justice for the organisation, said: “By brushing aside legitimate human rights criticism, Gianni Infantino rejects the huge price paid by migrant workers to make his flagship tournament possible. – as well as FIFA’s liability towards it.
“Demands for equality, dignity and compensation cannot be treated as some sort of culture war – these are universal human rights that FIFA has pledged to uphold in its own statutes.
“If there is a small glimmer of hope, it is that Infantino has announced that FIFA will set up a legacy fund after the World Cup. This cannot, however, be a mere facade.
“If FIFA wants to salvage anything from this tournament, it must announce that it will invest a significant portion of the six billion US dollars the organization will make from this tournament and ensure that this fund is used to directly compensate workers and their families.”