‘Profoundly unjust:’ Gianni Infantino launches explosive tirade against Western critics on eve of World Cup


Doha, Qatar
CNN

Ahead of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, FIFA president Gianni Infantino launched a tirade against Western critics of the controversial tournament in an explosive hour-long monologue.

Infantino, head of world soccer’s governing body, scowled as he addressed hundreds of reporters in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday.

“We have learned many lessons from the Europeans, 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 giving moral lessons.”

Despite the first leg kicking off on November 20, Infantino barely spoke about football and focused his attention on what he called the “hypocrisy” of Western criticism.

At the extraordinary press conference, Infantino appeared exhausted. He spent a lot of time defending FIFA’s decision in 2010 to award the World Cup to Qatar. A controversial decision made while he was not the president of the governing body.

The tournament will be a historic event, the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East, but it is also mired in controversy, with much of it focused on human rights, from the deaths of migrant workers and the conditions many endured in Qatar, to LGBTQ and real woman.

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Infantino, while acknowledging that things were not perfect, said some of the criticism was “deeply unfair” and accused the West of double standards.

Infantino addressed questions about the last-minute ban on selling alcohol in stadiums.

The Italian opened the press conference with an hour-long speech, telling reporters he knows how it feels to be discriminated against, saying he was bullied as a child because he had red hair and freckles.

“Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. I feel gay today. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel like a guest worker,” he said in front of an astonished audience.

“I feel this, all this, because what I saw and what I was told, since I don’t read, otherwise I would be depressed, I think.

“What I saw brings me back to my personal story. I am the son of migrant workers. My parents worked very, very hard in difficult situations.”

Infantino said progress had been made in Qatar on a number of issues, but insisted that real change would take time, adding that FIFA would not abandon the country after the tournament ends. He suggested that he thought some Western journalists would forget about these issues.

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“We must invest in education, to give them a better future, to give them hope. We should all educate ourselves,” he said.

“Reform and change take time. It was necessary for hundreds of years in our countries in Europe. Everything takes time, the only way to get results is engagement […] not with a shout”.

Infantino also addressed questions about the last-minute decision to ban the sale of alcohol in 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 in World Cup stadiums three hours before kick-off and one hour after the final whistle, but not during the match.

“Let me first assure you that any decision that is made at this World Cup is a joint decision between Qatar and FIFA,” he said. “Every decision is discussed, debated and made jointly.”

“It will be […] over 200 places where you can buy alcohol in Qatar and over 10 fan zones, where more than 100,000 people can drink alcohol at the same time.

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“I think personally, if you can’t drink beer for three hours a day, you’ll survive.”

“Especially because the same rules actually apply in France or Spain or Portugal or Scotland, where beer is now not allowed in stadiums,” he added.

“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 will be safe in Qatar, 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 that this is a tournament for everyone.

“Let me also mention the LGBT situation. Several times, not just once, I discussed this topic with the top management of the country. They confirmed, and I can confirm, that everyone is welcome,” said Infantino.

“This is a clear request from FIFA. Everyone must be welcome, everyone who comes to Qatar is welcome regardless of religion, race, sexual orientation, belief. Everyone is welcome. That was our request and the Qatari state adheres to that request,” Infantino said.

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