FIFA president Gianni Infantino has hit back at criticism of Qatar’s human rights record in an extraordinary press conference in Doha, the day before the World Cup kicks off in the Middle East.
Infantino began with a singular expression of his support for the LGBTQ community and migrant workers.
“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.
“I’m not Qatari, African, gay, disabled and I’m not really a migrant worker but I know what it means to be discriminated and bullied, as a foreign in a foreign country, as a child at school I was bullied because I had red hair and freckles. I was bullied for that.
“There are 1 billion disabled people in the world … and nobody cares.”
In a 90-minute conference, Infantino lashed out at what he called the “hypocrisy” of those criticising the Muslim country.
“This moral lesson-giving – one-sided – is just hypocrisy,” the Swiss said.
“I don’t want to give you any lessons of life, but what is going on here is profoundly, profoundly unjust.
“For what we Europeans have been doing for the last 3000 years we should apologise for the next 3000 years before starting giving moral lessons to people.
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.
“This one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy. I wonder why no-one recognises the progress made here since 2016.
“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.
“I don’t have to defend Qatar, they can defend themselves. I defend football. Qatar has made progress and I feel many other things as well.
“Of course I am not Qatari, Arab, African, gay, disabled or a migrant worker. But I feel like them because I know what it means to be discriminated and bullied as a foreigner in a foreign country.”
The tournament begins under a shadow of international condemnation of Qatar’s human rights record, including criticism of of its treatment of LGBTQ people and the plight of migrant workers – many of whom have built the stadia for the football in the weeks ahead. In February 2021, the Guardian said 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since it won its World Cup bid – a figure that was disputed by the state, which said not all the deaths recorded were of people working on World Cup-related projects.
Qatar officials previously said international criticism amounted to “racism” and “double standards” when there are so many injustices in the world.
The World Cup begins on Sunday with host nation Qatar playing Ecuador in the opening match.