On the eve of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, FIFA President Gianni Infantino launched a tirade against Western critics of the controversial tournament in an explosive hour-long monologue.
Infantino, the boss of world soccer’s governing body, looked dapper as he spoke to hundreds of journalists in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday.
“We are being taught many lessons by Europeans, by the Western world,” he said, referring to criticism of Qatar’s human rights record.
“What we Europeans have done for the last 3000 years, we should apologize for the next 3000 years before we start giving moral lessons.”
Despite the opening game starting on November 20, Infantino barely talked about soccer and focused his attention on what he called the “twins” of Western criticism.
In a remarkable press conference, Infantino seemed exhausted. He spent a lot of time defending FIFA’s decision in 2010 to award the World Cup to Qatar. A controversial decision made when he is not the president of the governing body.
The tournament will be a historic event, the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East, but has also been mired in controversy, with much of the build-up focusing on human rights, from the deaths of migrant workers and the conditions faced by many . Endured in Qatar, to LGBTQ and women’s rights.
Infantino, despite conceding that things are not perfect, said some criticism was “deeply unfair” and accused the West of double standards.
The Italian opened the news conference with an hour-long speech, telling reporters that he knew how it felt to be discriminated against, saying that he was bullied as a child for having red hair and freckles.
“Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker,” he said in front of a stunned audience.
“I feel this, all this, because of what I saw and what I was told, since I don’t read, otherwise I would have been depressed, I think.
“What I saw brings me back to my personal history. I am a son of migrant workers. My parents worked very hard in difficult situations. ”
Infantino said progress had been made in Qatar on a range of issues, but insisted that real change takes time, adding that FIFA will not abandon the country after the tournament ends. He suggested that he thought some Western journalists would forget about the issues.
“We need to invest in education, to give them a better future, to give them hope. We should all educate ourselves,” he said.
“Reform and change takes time. It took hundreds of years in our countries in Europe. It takes time everywhere, the only way to get results is by engaging […] Not by shouting.”
Infantino also spoke about the last-minute decision to ban alcohol sold in the eight stadiums that will host the tournament’s 64 matches. In a FIFA statement issued on Friday, the governing body said alcohol will be sold in fan zones and licensed venues.
The Muslim country is considered very conservative and strictly regulates alcohol sales and use.
In September, Qatar said it would allow ticket fans to buy alcoholic beer at World Cup stadiums three hours before kick-off and one hour after the final whistle, but not during the game.
“Let me first assure you that every decision taken in this World Cup is a joint decision between Qatar and FIFA,” he said on Saturday. “Every decision is discussed, debated and taken together.”
“It will be […] Over 200 places where you can buy alcohol in Qatar and over 10 fan zones, where over 100,000 people can simultaneously drink alcohol.
“I think personally, if for three hours a day you can’t drink a beer, you will survive.”
“Especially because the same rules apply in France or in Spain or in Portugal or in Scotland, where no beer is allowed in stadiums now,” he added.
“It seems to become a big thing because it’s a Muslim country, or I don’t know why.”
More to follow.