On the eve of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, FIFA President Gianni Infantino launched into a tirade against Western critics of the controversial tournament in an explosive hour-long monologue.
Infantino, the boss of world football’s governing body, looked glum as he addressed hundreds of journalists in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday.
“We learn a lot of lessons from Europeans, from the Western world,” he said, referring to the criticism of the human rights situation in Qatar.
“What we Europeans have done for the past 3,000 years, we should excuse for the next 3,000 years before we start teaching moral lessons.”
Despite the opening game kicking off on November 20, Infantino barely talked about football and turned his attention to what he called the “hypocrisy” of Western criticism.
In a remarkable press conference, Infantino appeared exhausted. He spent a lot of time defending FIFA’s decision in 2010 to award the World Cup to Qatar. A controversial decision that was taken when he was not yet chairman of the governing body.
This tournament will be a historic event, the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East, but it has also been mired in controversy, with much of the run-up focusing on human rights, the deaths of migrant workers and the conditions many have endured. in Qatar, to LGBTQ and women’s rights.
Despite admitting things weren’t perfect, Infantino said some criticisms were “deeply unfair” and accused the West of applying double standards.
The Italian opened the press conference by speaking for an hour, telling journalists he knew what it felt like to be discriminated against, saying he was bullied as a child because he had red hair and freckles.
“Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel handicapped. Today I feel like a migrant worker,” he said to a stunned audience.
“I feel this, all this, because what I have seen and what I have been told, because I do not read, otherwise I would be depressed, I think.
“What I have seen brings me back to my personal story. I am a son of guest workers. My parents worked very hard in difficult situations.”
Infantino said progress had been made in Qatar on a number of issues, but stressed that real change takes time, adding that FIFA will not leave the country after the tournament ends. He suggested that he thought some Western journalists would forget about the issues.
“We have to invest in education, to give them a better future, to give them hope. We should all educate ourselves,” he said.
“Reforming and changing takes time. It took hundreds of years in our countries in Europe. It takes time everywhere, the only way to get results is to be involved […] not by shouting.”
Infantino also answered questions about the last-minute decision to ban the sale of alcohol in the eight stadiums hosting the tournament’s 64 matches. In a FIFA statement released 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 consumption of alcohol.
In September, Qatar had said it would allow fans with tickets to buy alcoholic beer at World Cup stadiums three hours before kick-off and one hour after the final whistle, but not during the match.
“First let me assure you that every decision made during this World Cup is a joint decision between Qatar and FIFA,” he said. “Every decision is jointly discussed, discussed and taken.”
“There will be […] more than 200 places where you can buy alcohol in Qatar and more than 10 fan zones, where more than 100,000 people can drink alcohol at the same time.
“I personally think that if you can’t drink a beer for three hours a day, you’ll survive.”
“Especially because in France or in Spain or in Portugal or in Scotland the same rules actually apply, where beer is not allowed in stadiums now,” he added.
“It seems to be a big thing because it’s a Muslim country, or I don’t know why.”
Infantino ended the press conference by insisting everyone be safe in Qatar amid concerns from the LGBTQ community.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and carries a maximum sentence of three years in prison, but the FIFA president promised this was a tournament for everyone.
“Let me also mention the LGBT situation. I have spoken to the top leadership of the country on this subject several times, not just once. They have confirmed, and I can confirm, that everyone is welcome,” said Infantino.
“This is a clear FIFA requirement. Everyone should be welcome, everyone who comes to Qatar is welcome, regardless of religion, race, sexual orientation, belief he or she has. Everyone is welcome. This was our demand and the Qatari state is adhering to that demand,” Infantino said.