After 12 years of doubt and criticism over the tournament in Qatar, the World Cup finally kicks off on Sunday. But football itself is still shrouded in off-field affairs, despite just hours before kick-off of the opening game.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino’s unusual tirade against Western criticism of the controversial tournament in an hour-long monologue is still making headlines around the world. Human rights groups described it as “rude” and “insulting” to migrant workers.
The head of world football’s governing body, Gianni Infantino, was somber as he addressed hundreds of reporters in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday, kicking off his news conference with a nearly hour-long speech during which he accused Western critics of hypocrisy and racism.
“We have learned a lot from Europeans and from the Western world,” he said, referring to criticism of Qatar’s human rights record.
“What we Europeans have been doing for the last 3,000 years, we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start moral education.”
The World Cup, which will be a historic event, the first to be held in the Middle East, is also mired in controversy, with much of the preparations centered on human rights issues, including the deaths of migrant workers and the death of many situation. Enduring LGBTQ and women’s rights in Qatar.
Those who participated in the competition received a lot of criticism. The former England captain and Manchester United star went on to serve as Qatar’s World Cup ambassador after British comedian Joe Lessert last week questioned David Beckham’s status as a gay icon.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and punishable by up to three years in prison. A Human Rights Watch report released last month documented recent cases in September of Qatari security forces arbitrarily arresting LGBT people and subjecting them to “mistreatment in detention”.
Colombian singer Maluma, who stars in the official World Cup anthem, withdrew from an interview with Israeli television when he was asked about the Gulf state’s human rights record.
While Qatar will face Ecuador in their first game at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, Infantino said little about football during his remarkable news conference, focusing instead on what he called On the “hypocrisy” of Western criticism.
Infantino told reporters he knew what it was like to be discriminated against, saying 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 like a migrant worker,” he said in front of a stunned audience.
“I feel this, all of this, because of what I’ve seen and what I’ve been told, because I don’t read, otherwise I think I’d be depressed.
“What I saw reminded me of my personal story. I was the son of a migrant worker. My parents worked very, very hard in difficult circumstances.”
Infantino said Qatar had made progress on a range of issues but insisted real change would take time, adding that FIFA would not leave the country after the World Cup. He said 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 be educating ourselves,” he said.
“Reform and change take time. It took hundreds of years in our European countries. It takes time everywhere and the only way to get results is to engage […] Not by shouting. ”
Human rights groups have criticized the FIFA president and his speech. Nicholas McKeehan, director of the non-profit human rights group FairSquare, said in a statement: “Infantino’s comments were rude and clumsy, suggesting that the FIFA president was getting his talking points directly from the Qatari authorities.
Steve Coburn, Amnesty International’s head of economics and social justice, said in a statement: “By ignoring legitimate human rights criticism, Gianni Infantino is dismissing the immigrant workers who made his flagship event possible. And a huge price to pay – and FIFA’s responsibility for it.
Infantino also answered questions about the last-minute decision to ban the sale of alcohol at the eight stadiums where 64 games will be played. In a FIFA statement released on Friday, the governing body said alcohol would be sold in fan areas and licensed venues.
The Muslim country is considered very conservative and has strict regulations on the sale and use of alcohol.
In September, Qatar said it would allow ticket holders to buy alcoholic beer three hours before kick-off and one hour after the final whistle, but not during games.
“Let me start by assuring you that every decision in this World Cup is a joint decision between Qatar and FIFA,” he said. “Every decision is discussed, debated and made jointly.”
“will have […] There are more than 200 places where you can buy alcohol and more than 10 fan zones in Qatar where more than 100,000 people can drink at the same time.
“I personally think that if you don’t drink beer for three hours a day, you can survive.”
“Especially because virtually the same rules apply in France, Spain, Portugal or Scotland, where beer is not allowed in stadiums now,” he added.
“It seems to be a big deal because it’s a Muslim country, or I don’t know why.”
Amid concerns from the LGBTQ community, Infantino ended the press conference by insisting that everyone in Qatar would be safe.
Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and is punishable by up to three years in prison, but the FIFA president has promised a tournament for everyone.
“Let me also mention, the LGBT situation. I have spoken to the top leaders of the country on this topic many times, not once. They have confirmed, and I can confirm, that all are welcome,” Infantino said.
“This is a clear request from FIFA. Everyone must be welcome, everyone who comes to Qatar is welcome, regardless of her or his religion, race, sexual orientation, beliefs. All are welcome. This is our demand , the Qatari government insists on this request,” Infantino said.