FIFA president Gianni Infantino has defended Qatar and accused the West of 'hypocrisy' in an extraordinary opening address ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
Qatar has been heavily criticised ahead of the tournament for its appalling human rights record in recent years, specifically for the death of migrant workers in the construction of stadiums and the nation's treatment of LGBTQ people.
Infantino, who was born in Switzerland but currently lives in Doha, used his opening address to defend Qatar and told European nations to look at their own past instead of criticising the World Cup host.
"Today I have strong feelings," he said. Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel a migrant worker."
🗣 “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.”President of FIFA, Gianni Infantino with a strange speech on the eve of the 2022 World Cup pic.twitter.com/f1xIfWAjomNovember 19, 2022
A report by The Guardian last year claimed 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had lost their lives in Qatar since the nation won its World Cup bid in 2010.
The Qatari government say the number is far lower, with their records showing only 37 deaths among workers at stadium contruction sites between 2014 and 2020 and only three of those "work-related".
"We have been taught many lessons from Europeans and the Western world," Infantino said in his opening address, which lasted almost an hour.
"I am European. For what we have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons.
"If Europe really care about the destiny of these people, they can create legal channels – like Qatar did – where a number of these workers can come to Europe to work. Give them some future, some hope.
"I think this will be the World Cup that really underpins just how dirty the game is." Melissa Reddy picks apart Gianni Infantino's 'astounding' and 'disrespectful' statement 🔊 pic.twitter.com/AFtVX83uBTNovember 19, 2022
"I have difficulties understanding the criticism. We have to invest in helping these people, in education and to give them a better future and more hope. We should all educate ourselves, many things are not perfect but reform and change takes time.
"This one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy. I wonder why no-one recognises the progress made here since 2016.
"It is not easy to take the critics of a decision that was made 12 years ago. Qatar is ready, it will be the best World Cup ever.
"I don't have to defend Qatar, they can defend themselves. I defend football. Qatar has made progress and I feel many other things as well.
"Of course I am not Qatari, Arab, African, gay, disabled or a migrant worker. But I feel like them because I know what it means to be discriminated and bullied as a foreigner in a foreign country.
"As a child I was bullied because I had red hair and freckles. I was bullied for that."
The World Cup kicks off on Sunday, with hosts Qatar in action against Ecuador at 16:00 GMT.
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Ben Hayward is Weekend Editor for FourFourTwo. A European football writer with over 15 years’ experience, he has covered games all over the world - including three World Cups, several Champions League finals, Euros, Copa América - and has spent much of that time in Spain. He currently divides his time between Barcelona and London.