After 12 years of questions and criticism of the tournament being held in Qatar, the World Cup finally started on Sunday. But although the kickoff for the opening match is just hours away, football is still being affected by matters off the field.
FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s explosive one-hour monologue against Western critics of the controversial tournament is still making headlines around the world. Human rights groups described this as an “insult” and “disgrace” to migrant workers.
Infantino, the boss of world soccer’s governing body, looked sullen as he addressed hundreds of journalists in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday, opening the news conference with a nearly hour-long speech during which he accused Western critics of hypocrisy and racism. charged up.
Referring to criticisms of Qatar’s human rights record, he said, “We are taught many lessons from the Europeans, from the Western world.”
“What we Europeans have been doing for the past 3,000 years, we must apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start giving moral lessons.”
The 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 build-up focused on human rights, the deaths of migrant workers and the rights of LGBTQ and women from a number of situations. Tolerated in Qatar.
The people involved in the tournament have faced a lot of criticism. Last week British comedian Joe Lycett questioned David Beckham’s status as a gay icon, with the former England captain and Manchester United star set to continue in his role as Qatar World Cup ambassador.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and punishable by up to three years in prison. A Human Rights Watch report published last month documented cases of arbitrary arrests and “custodial abuse” of LGBT people by Qatari security forces as recently as September.
Colombian singer Maluma, who appears in the official World Cup anthem, walked out of an interview on Israeli television when she was questioned about the Gulf state’s human rights record.
While Qatar’s team will take on Ecuador in the first game at 11 a.m. ET Sunday, Infantino barely talked about football in his remarkable press conference and focused his attention on what he called the “hypocrisy” of Western criticism.
Infantino told reporters that he knew what it felt like to be discriminated against, as he was bullied as a child for his 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 like a migrant worker.’
“I feel this, all this, because of what I see and what I’m told, because I don’t read, otherwise I feel depressed.
“What I have seen brings me back to my personal story. I am the son of migrant labourers. My parents were working very hard in difficult circumstances.”
Infantino said progress has been made on a number of issues in Qatar, but stressed that real change takes time, adding that FIFA will not abandon the country once the tournament is over. He suggested that he thought some Western journalists would forget about the issues.
“We need to invest in education to give them hope, to give them a better future. We all must educate ourselves,” he said.
“Reform and change take time. In Europe it took hundreds of years in our countries. Everywhere it takes time, the only way to get results is to engage […] Not by shouting.
Human rights groups have criticized the FIFA chief and his speech. Nicholas McGeehan, director of Fairsquare, a non-profit human rights organisation, said in a statement: “Infantino’s comments were as ludicrous as they were clumsy and suggest the FIFA president is speaking directly to Qatari officials.
Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s head of economic and social justice, said in a statement: “While sidestepping legitimate human rights criticisms, Gianni Infantino is dismissing the heavy price paid by migrant workers to make his flagship tournament possible. Are – as well as FIFA’s responsibility for this.
Infantino also answered questions about a last-minute decision to ban the sale of alcohol at the eight stadiums that will host the tournament’s 64 matches. In a FIFA statement released on 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 use of alcohol.
In September, Qatar said it would allow ticketed fans to buy alcoholic beer at World Cup stadiums three hours before kickoff and one hour after the final whistle, but not during matches.
“Let me first assure you that every decision taken in this World Cup is a joint decision between Qatar and FIFA,” he said. “Every decision is discussed, debated and taken jointly.”
“there will be […] More than 200 places in Qatar where you can buy alcohol and more than 10 fan zones, where more than 100,000 people can drink together.
“I personally think, if you can’t drink beer for three hours a day, you’re going to survive.”
“Especially because really the same rules apply as in France or Spain or Portugal or Scotland, where beer is no longer allowed in stadiums,” he said.
“It seems to have become a big deal because it’s a Muslim country, or I don’t know why.”
Infantino ended the press conference by insisting that everyone in Qatar would be safe, amid concerns from the LGBTQ community.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and punishable by up to three years in prison, but the FIFA president promised it was a tournament for all.
“I should also mention the LGBT situation. I have talked to the top leadership of the country on this subject not once but many times. They have confirmed, and I can confirm, that everyone is welcome,” Infantino said.
“It’s a clear FIFA requirement. Everyone should be welcome, everyone who comes to Qatar is welcome regardless of religion, race, sexual orientation, belief. Everyone is welcome. That was our requirement and The State of Qatar stands by that requirement,” Infantino said.