Gary Neville believes FIFA president Gianni Infantino is “the worst face” to represent the Qatar World Cup after his controversial monologue on Saturday and wants the governing body to “clean up its act”.
Infantino delivered an extraordinary hour-long speech in a pre-tournament press conference in Doha in which he declared “today I feel gay” and “I feel (like) a migrant worker” before taking aim at European critics of Qatar.
Ahead of Sunday’s opening game of the 2022 finals between the host nation and Ecuador, former England defender Neville was appearing as a pundit on beIN Sports and heavily criticised the Swiss, labelling him as a “terrible face for football”.
He said: “I’ve been all around the world with Manchester United: to the Middle East, the Far East, to Asia, Africa and Australasia and there’s no doubt we should be taking football all around the world.
“But he’s a terrible face for football, that guy (Infantino). Some of the things he said yesterday were inappropriate and shouldn’t be said by him. He should be statesmanlike, he should be bringing people together, he’s the global representative of football, not answering to one or two nations which he seemed to be doing yesterday. He’s got to rise above it.
“I’m sick of these leaders like (Boris) Johnson, (Donald) Trump, Infantino and (Sepp) Blatter – they don’t unite, they divide, all their language is about division, even though they think they’re bringing people together, they’re not.
“Some of his language yesterday about, ‘I’m a migrant worker, I’m disabled’ is an absolute scandal, he shouldn’t be using that type of language. He shouldn’t be using those phrases in my opinion.
“I think FIFA is a poor representation of what football is, which is a beautiful game enjoyed by communities from Brazil to Bury, from Bolivia to Peru, to everywhere. I have to say that FIFA needs to clean up its act.
“It’s been bad for so long and my personal feeling with Infantino is that he’s effectively put himself back into power for four years, there’s no independence.
“We’ve got to have independence and democracy. He elects himself back into position and I think he’s the worst face to represent the Middle East, Arabs, Muslims and the Qatar World Cup.”
Former England captain Gary Lineker opened the BBC’s coverage of the World Cup by highlighting some of the issues that have been faced so far.
“It’s the most controversial World Cup in history and a ball hasn’t been kicked,” he said. “Ever since FIFA chose Qatar back in 2010, the smallest nation to have hosted football’s greatest competition has faced some big questions.
“From accusations of corruption in the bidding process to the treatment of migrant workers who built the stadiums, where many lost their lives.
— Gary Lineker 💙💛 (@GaryLineker) November 20, 2022
“Homosexuality is illegal here, women’s rights and freedom of expression are in the spotlight, also the decision six years ago to switch the World Cup from summer to winter.
“Against that backdrop is a tournament to be played, one that will be watched and enjoyed around the world.
“Stick to football say FIFA, well, we will for a couple of minutes at least.”
When asked by Lineker about the tournament taking place in winter, his fellow former England striker Alan Shearer called it “weird”.
“Weird, really strange considering there was a league programme only seven days ago,” Shearer said on the BBC.
“There’s a lot spoken about, but I hope once the football gets under way it starts feeling like a World Cup and we can sit and enjoy what’s hopefully a great spectacle.”
Former England defender Alex Scott also described Infantino’s comments as “confusing and absolutely bizarre”.
She said on the BBC: “I don’t sit in this chair and I’m not pointing fingers or criticising, it’s me trying to understand.
“You brought the World Cup here, so I’m coming here trying to understand about a culture, about the whole context of what’s going on and what the FIFA president said right there yesterday, to me is confusing and absolutely bizarre.
“How you can say, ‘today I am a migrant worker’? No you are not and you never will be.
“Yes you have moved forward and now there is a minimum wage in this country that happened in the last two years – £1 an hour, £240 a month.
“Your salary is whatever it is a year. You will never know what it is to be a migrant worker and for families now to lose their loved ones just trying to earn some money, it’s absolutely bizarre.
“When we sit here, we are in one of the richest countries, FIFA one of the richest organisations for football. The great Nelson Mandela said you can use sport to change the world – when you can, you can push sport forward and make social change happen.”
Scott also referenced the fact that LGBTQ+ fans have not felt welcome to attend the tournament given Qatar’s laws.
“A whole heap of fans from around the world from the LGBTQ+ community not wanting to travel here…” she added.
“Once again we reference Gianni Infantino from what he said… you are not gay, you will never understand travelling to a country where you are fearing for your life just because of who you choose to love.
“To keep saying football is for everyone, we sit here and it’s not, because people have not been able to travel to watch their teams, to support their teams, out of fear.”