FIFA chief Infantino slams Qatar critics as “hypocrites” and “racists”

Gianni Infantino used his position as FIFA president to counterattack those critical of Qatar by calling them hypocrites and, at one point, racists. For what they have done over the past 3,000 years, the western world should be apologising for the “next 3,000 instead of giving moral lessons.”

Scheduled for 45 minutes, Infantino’s press conference lasted the length of a football game, six minutes of added time included, and ended with Bryan Swanson, FIFA’s director of media relations, saying he was gay and not unsafe in a country where same sex relations are illegal.

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Terming some of the scorn on Qatar as “quite incredible” and “profoundly, profoundly unjust”, Infantino sought engagement instead of exclusion saying “we have to look for excuses to bring people together” and not seek to divide. “You want another world war, okay, not me,” he said, replying to a question on why England should play Iran which has a regime that baulks at allowing women into stadiums. “It is not two regimes playing each other, not two ideologies, it is two football teams.”

Repeatedly pointing out that all is far from perfect in many countries critical of Qatar, Infantino quoted a report from international not-for-profit Human Rights Watch, which has been critical of Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, that said 25,000 died in Europe since 2014 because of the continent’s migration policies, 1,200 of them this year. “Why is no one asking for compensation? Where are we going with our way of working guys?”

He also mentioned a canton in Switzerland which allowed women to vote “in the 1990s”. He was referring to Appenzell Innerhoden which permitted women’s suffrage in 1991 only because the country’s highest court intervened. Referring to his time as a child of immigrants into Switzerland, Infantino pointed out how migrant workers were treated in his country. “I know what it means to be discriminated. I was bullied as a foreigner, plus I was Italian, so imagine,” he said.

“And the same Switzerland has today become an example of inclusion, of tolerance of nationalities working together with rights, Qatar’s made progress as well.” Set for a third term as FIFA head, Infantino said when he came to Doha for the first time, he was “brought back into my childhood” seeing the conditions of the workers. “And I said to the people of Qatar, this is not right, we have to do something about it.”

Making a case for football’s apex body, Infantino asked “how many European companies have addressed that. None of them because changing legislations means less profit and FIFA makes much less than those companies.” FIFA and Qatar care for the workers, he said, citing abolishing the kafala system that defines relationship between a worker and their local sponsor, in 2016; provisions to deal with the heat, insurance and they have been acknowledged by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

“It is not perfect, reforms take time,” he said, adding that insulting and hammering people will get you nowhere and pointing out LGBTQ+ rights were not in place when Switzerland hosted the World Cup (in 1954). With FIFA’s intervention, Infantino said ILO would be setting up a permanent office in Doha. And funds from FIFA legacy fund, used for football in the country hosting the World Cup, will be for the uplift of workers in Qatar.

Calling South Asians cheering England and other teams as fake fans was “pure racism”, he said. “Can somebody who looks like an Indian not cheer for England or Germany? Everyone in the world has the right to cheer for any team. We all want to have a moment to forget our problems and enjoy.”

More advertisement for FIFA came in Infantino referring to 11,000 Israelis and Palestinians travelling together from Tel Aviv to Doha and the evacuation of women footballers from Afghanistan “with help from Qatar.” None of the countries now complaining offered to take the women, only 160 of them, he said, bar Albania.

Infantino also addressed the elephant in the room, “the alcohol question”. He accepted it was a “late change of policy” and that FIFA did try to make beer available, but pointed out that things are no different in stadiums in France, Portugal, Spain and Scotland. It was done keeping in mind the movement of a lot of people in one city that is hosting four games every day, he said.

“If this (beer not being available) is the biggest issue of this World Cup, I can go relax on the beach,” he said. It, like every decision in the context of the World Cup, is a joint decision, he said. “At any point in time, 100,000 people can simultaneously drink alcohol in Doha in fan areas and other designated areas.”

And to all those sceptical of this World Cup, Infantino said FIFA is expecting $600m to $700m more from tickets sales and hospitality, sponsorship and media rights. “Because they believe in FIFA and trust Qatar. Either they are all stupid or those who say this World Cup won’t be watched might be a little wrong.”

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