Fifa president Gianni Infantino has accused the West of “hypocrisy” in reporting problems in World Cup host Qatar.
Infantino held a news conference on the eve of Qatar’s opener against Ecuador and spoke for nearly an hour before taking questions.
Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup has been criticized over the country’s record on human rights and treatment of migrant workers.
“I had very strong feelings today,” Infantino began. “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel (like) a migrant worker.
“I’m not Qatari, African, gay, disabled, or a real immigrant worker, but I know what it means to be discriminated against and bullied abroad as a foreigner. I was bullied at school as a child because I had a red Hair and freckles. I got bullied for it.”
It is difficult to report exactly how many migrant workers have died in the 12 years since Qatar won World Cup rights, but the figure is in the thousands.
Explained: Why it’s hard to provide the death toll of migrant workers in Qatar
The vast majority of Qatar’s workforce is made up of more than 2 million migrant workers from countries such as India, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Philippines.
Infantino continued: “I’m European. For what we have done in the world for 3,000 years, we should apologize for the next 3,000 years, and then do moral education.
“If Europe really cares about the fate of these people, they can create legal channels – as Qatar has done – so that some of these workers can come and work in Europe. Give them some future, some hope.
“It’s hard for me to understand the criticism. We have to invest in helping these people, invest in education, give them a better future and more hope. We should all educate ourselves that many things are not perfect, but reform and change needs time.
“This one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy. I wonder why no one acknowledges the progress that has been made here since 2016.”
Human rights at the World Cup in Qatar – a guide to everything you need to know
Infantino has previously spoken out about the rights of migrant workers in Qatar. In May, the Swiss-Italian said FIFA was helping migrant workers gain “dignity and pride” through World Cup infrastructure projects.
He added that FIFA was “proud” to be “able to make a difference” for those 1.5 million people.
Infantino, meanwhile, will run for a third unopposed term as FIFA president next spring.
The next FIFA Congress will be held in Kigali, Rwanda, and FIFA confirmed on Thursday that Infantino has no one to challenge him for the position he has held since 2016.
Infantino criticizes ‘deflection’ and ‘culture war’ tactics
Amnesty International has criticized Infantino, accusing him of dismissing human rights criticism and seeing equality demands as part of a “culture war”.
Steve Coburn, head of economics and social justice at Amnesty International, said in response to Infantino’s media remarks: “Gianni Infantino ignores legitimate human rights criticism and ignores migrant workers to make his flagship The enormous price paid for making possible the competition and FIFA’s flagship competition. Responsible for it.
“Demands for equality, dignity and compensation cannot be seen as some kind of culture war – they are universal human rights that FIFA has committed itself to respect in its own statute.
“If there is a silver lining, it is Infantino’s announcement that FIFA will establish a legacy fund after the World Cup. This cannot be just window dressing… It must be ensured that this fund goes directly to compensating workers and their families.”
Nicholas McGeehan, director of human rights group FairSquare, described Infantino’s comments as “crass and clumsy” and said the event’s public relations strategy was “distorting the truth”.
Gianni Infantino’s letter about the World Cup is sad, irrational and dumbfoundingly stupid
(Photo: Getty Images)