'Don't criticise Qatar, the players, criticise me' – FIFA president Infantino promises 'everyone is welcome' at World Cup

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Gianni Infantino promised that "everyone is welcome" in Qatar, but was adamant the country must not be criticised despite its questionable human rights record.

A World Cup the FIFA president believes will go down as the best in history kicks off on Sunday, with host nation Qatar taking on Ecuador.

The awarding of the tournament to Qatar, which happened in 2010, has drawn much criticism, with the Gulf state's record on human rights particularly contentious.

Male homosexuality is still a crime in Qatar, while the nation's government does not recognise same-sex marriage or civil partnerships, while campaigns for LGBTQ+ rights have been quashed.

Infantino, though, assured that people of any sexuality, race or religion are welcome in the country, as in an hour-long monologue at the Main Media Centre in Doha on Saturday, he called out what he sees as the "hypocrisy" of the western world and media, insisting that he must take any criticism, and not Qatar or the players or coaches.

"At the last World Cup I was always getting angry, because I had to deal with questions about doping, which I had nothing to do with," Infantino said.

"Here I have to deal with other topics. If you want to criticise somebody, don't criticise the players, the coaches, let them focus on football and making their fans happy.

"If you want to criticise someone, criticise me, I am here, crucify me. Don't criticise Qatar. Criticise FIFA, criticise me. But let people enjoy this World Cup.

"Do we want to continue to divide, to spit on people because they feel different, or look different? We obtain results, it's a process. Help us, don't divide, don't split.

"We have 32 teams, 33 with the referees, we have a beautiful city that wants to welcome the world. Let's celebrate and hope we can give some joy around the world."

Infantino promised he had assurances that people within the LGBTQ+ community will be welcome and secure in Qatar.

"I've been speaking about this topic with the highest leadership in the country, several times," he said.

"I can confirm that everyone is welcome. If you're a person here or there that says the opposite, well it's not the opinion of the country, and it's certainly not the opinion of FIFA.

"This is a clear requirement, everyone has to be welcome. Whatever religion, race, sexual orientation or belief that she or he has, everyone is welcome – this is our requirement and the Qatari state sticks to this.

"Yes, these legislations exist in many countries in the world. These legislations existed when Switzerland organised the World Cup, in 1954. What do you want to do about it?

"Do you want to stay home and criticise, say how bad they are – these Arabs or Muslims or whatever, because it's not allowed to be publicly gay. Of course, I believe it should be allowed, but I went through a process.

"If I asked the same question to my father, who is not here anymore, he would probably have a different answer than me, and my children will have a different answer than me.

"If somebody thinks by hammering and criticising we achieve anything, it will be exactly the opposite, because it will be provocation and if you provoke me the reaction will be bad, then the doors will be more closed, even though now the door is starting to open.

"Tolerance starts with ourselves, we shouldn’t spread aggression, we have to spread understanding."

Infantino hopes the tournament will help unite the world, claiming that is FIFA's aim.

He said: "We are a global organisation, and we want to unite the world. I am still convinced, though not sure how optimistic I still am, that this World Cup will help to open the eyes of people in the western world to the Arab world.

"We have to live together, but we have to understand we have different beliefs, different history and backgrounds, but we are in the same world. It's why you have to come here and say what you see – when you see something that is wrong, say how it can be rectified, please.

"Maybe we can help everyone to understand how we can help each other a little bit better."