Embattled FIFA President Gianni Infantino defended the Qatar World Cup a day before the tournament begins, accusing critics of the nation’s human rights record of hypocrisy.
Speaking after months of concern over the country’s treatment of migrant workers, anger at its LGBTQ laws and doubts over the legitimacy of the decision to hold the tournament there, Infantino said it was wrong for Europe to lecture the Qataris.
“For what we Europeans have been doing for the past 3,000 years, we should be apologizing for the next 3,000 years, before starting to give moral lessons to people,” he said Saturday.
Infantino said there have been improvements in the way migrant workers are treated, partly due to the engagement that’s happened as a result of the World Cup. On the eve of one of the most criticized World Cups ever, Infantino said his experience as the son of Italian migrants in Switzerland allowed him to understand what it meant to be bullied as a foreigner in a foreign country.
He began an almost-hour-long speech by saying: “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker.”
“As a child at school I was bullied because I had red hair and freckles. Plus I was Italian, so imagine,” Infantino said.
After a last-minute change on Friday to the rules on alcohol sales at the event, there are fears that other regulations governing the tournament may also be altered. Infantino tried to reassure the LGBTQ community they’d be safe, despite Qatar’s laws prohibiting homosexuality.
“Gay people are welcome in Qatar,” he said.
Infantino said the Qatar tournament brought many challenges, including having so many stadiums within a relatively short distance of one another. That was a factor in the new rules on beer, he said, before shrugging off the ban.
“If this is the biggest issue we have for the World Cup, then I will resign immediately and go to the beach to relax,” Infantino said, adding that fans could survive without a beer for three hours.
The FIFA chief said the tournament was set to beat revenues from the Russia World Cup four years ago in terms of media rights, sponsorship and ticketing, which would take it past the previous record of $5.4 billion.
“If so many people invest in the World Cup and in Qatar, they invest because they believe in FIFA and trust Qatar,” Infantino said.
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