Gianni Infantino: Europeans should look at themselves before criticising Qatar

FIFA president Gianni Infantino took aim at European critics of Qatar on the eve of the World Cup in an extraordinary hour-long monologue.

Infantino attracted criticism on social media for declaring “today I feel gay” and “today I feel (like) a migrant worker” early on in the speech, referencing the discrimination his family faced as Italian migrants in Switzerland and how he was bullied owing to his red hair and freckles.

The rights of the LGBTQ+ community and migrant workers in Qatar have been heavily in focus in the years leading up to the finals, particularly in Europe, but Infantino highlighted Europe’s own shortcomings on social issues and their current immigration policies in what was an impassioned defence of Qatar’s progress since the finals were controversially awarded in 2010.

“We have told many many lessons from some Europeans, from the western world,” he said, a day out from the tournament opener between the hosts and Ecuador.

“I am European. I think for what we Europeans have been doing the last 3,000 years we should be apologising for next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.”

He added: “We should all educate ourselves. Reform and change takes time, it took hundreds of years in our countries in Europe where we think we’ve achieved the top. I wonder if that’s the case.

“The only way of obtaining results is by engaging, dialogue. Not by hammering, insulting. When your child does something bad at school and you tell him you’re an idiot, you’re useless and you put him up in his room, what do you think his reaction will be?

Gianni Infantino pictured during his extraordinary press conference in Doha
Gianni Infantino pictured during his extraordinary press conference in Doha (Nick Potts/PA)

“If you engage with him, he will recognise that and he will be better. I don’t want to give you any lessons of life, but what is going on here is profoundly unjust.

“Europe is a heart of multicultural tolerance but even in Europe there are things that are not good. We should look at ourselves before criticising others.”

Infantino, who took a range of questions after the lengthy speech, remains adamant that members of the LGBTQ+ community will be safe and welcome in Qatar, despite the country’s laws which criminalise same-sex relationships.

“Everyone is welcome. If you are a person who says the opposite, it is not the opinion of the country and certainly not of FIFA,” he said.

“Everyone who comes is welcome, whatever religion, race, sex orientation, belief she or he has. This was our requirement and the Qatari state sticks to that requirement.”

Asked whether Qatar could move the goalposts on these commitments, citing the late change on the sale of alcohol at stadiums, Infantino replied: “It’s never too late to change, maybe we will have to change on other topics but when it comes to the security of people, when you speak about LGBT people, everyone’s security is granted from highest level of country.

“That is the guarantee we gave, and we still give it.”

Infantino’s remarks that he “felt gay” were criticised on social media, but at the end of the briefing, FIFA’s director of media relations Bryan Swanson defended the Swiss’ motives.

“I’m sitting here as a gay man in Qatar,” Swanson said.

“We have received assurances that everyone is welcome and I believe everybody will be welcome. Just because he is not gay does not mean he doesn’t care. He does care.

“We care about everyone and are inclusive.”

Human rights group Amnesty International accused Infantino of making light of the extreme suffering endured by the migrant workers who built the tournament’s infrastructure.

Steve Cockburn, the organisation’s head of economic and social justice, said: “In brushing aside legitimate human rights criticisms, Gianni Infantino is dismissing the enormous price paid by migrant workers to make his flagship tournament possible – as well as FIFA’s responsibility for it.

“Demands for equality, dignity and compensation cannot be treated as some sort of culture war – they are universal human rights that FIFA has committed to respect in its own statutes.

“If there is one tiny glimmer of hope, it is that Infantino announced that FIFA would establish a legacy fund after the World Cup. This cannot be mere window dressing, however.

“If FIFA is to salvage anything from this tournament, it must announce that it will invest a significant part of the six billion US dollars the organisation will make from this tournament and make sure this fund is used to compensate workers and their families directly.”