Gianni Infantino said he feels gay. That she feels like a woman. That he feels like a migrant worker. He lectured Europeans for criticizing Qatar’s human rights record and defended the host country’s last-minute decision to ban beer in World Cup stadiums.
The FIFA president delivered an hour-long tirade on the eve of the World Cup opening match and then spent about 45 minutes answering media questions about the Qatari government’s actions and a wide range of other topics.
“Today I feel Qatari,” Infantino said Saturday at the start of his first World Cup press conference. “Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel like a migrant worker.”
Infantino later responded to a reporter who noted that he left women out of his unusual statement.
“I feel like a woman,” replied the FIFA president.
Qatar has faced a litany of criticism since 2010, when it was chosen by FIFA to host the world’s biggest soccer tournament.
Migrant workers who built Qatar’s World Cup stadiums often worked long hours in harsh conditions and faced discrimination, wage theft and other abuses when their employers evaded accountability, human rights group Equidem said. based in London in a 75-page report published this month.
Infantino defended the country’s immigration policy and praised the government for bringing immigrants to work.
“We in Europe, we close our borders and we do not allow practically any worker from those countries, who earn obviously very low income, to work legally in our countries,” Infantino said. “If Europe really cared about the fate of these people, these young people, then Europe could also do what Qatar did.
“But give them some work. Give them a little future. Give them some hope. But this one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy.”
Reforms carried out, concerns persist
Qatar is ruled by a hereditary emir who has an absolute say in all government decisions and follows an ultra-conservative form of Islam known as Wahhabism. Qatar has been transformed in recent years following the natural gas boom of the 1990s, but has faced internal pressure to stay true to its Islamic heritage and Bedouin roots.
Under intense international scrutiny, Qatar has enacted a series of labor reforms in recent years that have been praised by Equidem and other human rights groups. But advocates say abuses are still widespread and workers have few avenues for redress.
Infantino, however, continued to hit the Qatari government talking points of turning criticism back at the West.
“What we Europeans have been doing for the last 3,000 years we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start giving people moral lessons,” said Infantino, who moved from Switzerland last year to live in Doha ahead of the World Cup.
Human rights are not a ‘culture war’
Responding to his comments, human rights group Amnesty International said Infantino was “setting aside legitimate human rights criticism” by dismissing the price paid by migrant workers to make the tournament possible and FIFA’s responsibility for it. .
“Demands for equality, dignity and compensation cannot be treated as some kind of culture war – they are universal human rights that FIFA has committed to uphold in its own statutes,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty’s head of economic and social justice.
A televised speech by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, on October 25 marked a turning point in the country’s approach to any criticism, stating that it had been “subjected to an unprecedented campaign that no host country has faced”.
Since then, government ministers and senior World Cup organizers have dismissed some European criticism as racism and calls to create a compensation fund for families of migrant workers as a publicity stunt.
‘It seems we forget’
Qatar has often been criticized for laws that criminalize homosexuality, limit some women’s freedoms and do not offer citizenship to immigrants.
“How many gay people were prosecuted in Europe?” Infantino said, repeating earlier comments that European countries had similar laws up until the last few generations. “Sorry, it was a process. It seems we forgot.”
In one region of Switzerland, women only gained the right to vote in the 1990s, she said.
He also chastised European and North American countries that he said did not open their borders to welcome soccer-playing girls and women who were helped out of Afghanistan by FIFA and Qatar last year.
Albania was the only country that stepped forward, he said.
Seven of Europe’s 13 teams at the World Cup said their captains will wear an anti-discrimination armband at games in defiance of a FIFA rule, taking part in a Dutch campaign called “One Love.”
FIFA has refused to comment publicly in any significant way on that issue, or on the insistence by European soccer federations that FIFA support a compensation fund for the families of migrant workers.
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