In a rambling series ‘opening remarks’ which ran for an hour on Saturday, Infantino suggested the West could learn from Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, claimed scrutiny of alleged fake England fans was “pure racism” and ordered European nations to spend “three-thousand years apologising” for their colonial past before starting to deliver “moral lessons”.
More than 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the country was first awarded the World Cup, leading to major criticism from human rights organisations, politicians and the media in the run-up to the tournament.
However, Infantino insisted major progress has been made on the issue in Qatar and ordered European critics to get their own house in order.
“We are told to make many lessons from some Europeans, from the western world,” Infantino said. “I think for what we Europeans have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.
“How many of these European companies who earn millions and millions from Qatar or other countries in the region – billions every year – how many of them have addressed migrant worker rights? I have the answer: none of them, because if they change the legislation, it means less profits.”
Only around 10 percent of Qatar’s population of almost three-million is made up of Qatari nationals, with the state reliant on an influx of migrant workers to build the seven new stadiums that have been constructed for this tournament.
Infantino claimed that by offering work to people willing to leave their homes in developing countries, Qatar had given them “some future” and “some hope”, urging European nations with stricter restrictions on immigration to follow suit.
“Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, they help their families [at home] to survive,” Infantino said. “And they do it in a legal way.
“We in Europe, we close our borders and we don’t allow practically any workers from these countries to work legally in our country. We all know there are many illegal workers in our European countries, living conditions which are also not really the best.
“Those who reach Europe, those who want to go to Europe, they have to go through a very difficult journey. Only a few survive. So if you would really care about the destiny of these people, these young people, then Europe could also do as Qatar did: create some legal channels where at least a number of these workers could come to Europe.”
There was also a rejection of claims that groups of Indian ex-pats filmed in Doha this week dressed in England shirts and cheering for Gareth Southgate’s side were ‘fake fans’.
“I am reading that these people don’t look like English so they shouldn’t cheer for English, they look like Indians,” Infantino said. “What is that? Can someone who looks Indian not cheer for England or Spain or Germany. You know what this is? It is racist, pure racist.”
Today, I feel African. Today, I feel gay. Today, I feel disabled.
Infantino also repeated his insistence that LGBTQ+ fans are welcome in Qatar, despite homosexuality being illegal in the country, having bizarrely, started his monologue by claiming to be able to sympathise with minority groups - because he was bullied for having freckles as a child.
“Today, I have very strong feeling,” Infantino began. “Today, I feel Qatari. Today I feel, Arab. Today, I feel African. Today, I feel gay. Today, I feel disabled. Today, I feel like a migrant worker.
“Of course, I am not Qatari, I am not Arab, I am not African, I am not gay, I’m not disabled, I am not really a migrant worker. But I feel like them because I know what it feels like to be discriminated against, to be bullied, as a foreigner in a foreign country. As a child, at school, I was bullied because I had red hair and freckles.”
Among the other extraordinary elements of a press conference that ran beyond an hour-and-a-half in total, Infantino suggested taking a World Cup to Iran would improve the situation there amid widespread unrest over women’s rights and revealed he once travelled to North Korea in an attempt to convince the government there to joint-host a Women’s World Cup alongside South Korea.