An explosive speech from the FIFA President threatens to overshadow the opening match of the World Cup | CNN


Doha, Qatar
CNN

The World Cup finals began on Sunday after 12 years of questions and criticism of the tournament being held in Qatar. But even though the opening kick-off is just hours away, football itself is still overshadowed by things off the field.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s extraordinary tirade against Western critics of the controversial tournament in an hour-long explosive monologue continues to make headlines around the world. Human rights groups called it “dirty” and an “insult” to migrant workers.

Infantino, the president of FIFA, looked gloomy as he addressed hundreds of journalists in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday, kicking off the news conference with a speech that lasted nearly an hour, during which he accused Western critics of hypocrisy and racism.

“We have received many lessons from the Europeans and from the Western world,” he said, referring to criticism of Qatar’s record in the field of human rights.

“What we Europeans have been doing for the last 3,000 years, we must apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start giving moral lessons.”

This tournament will be a historic event, the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East, but it is also mired in controversy, with much of the crowd focused on human rights, from the deaths of migrant workers and the conditions experienced by many. Suffered in Qatar, to LGBTQ and women’s rights.

The participants in the tournament faced a lot of criticism. Last week, British comedian Joe Lysette questioned David Beckham’s status as a gay icon the former England captain and Manchester United star to continue his role as Qatar’s World Cup ambassador.

Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar and is punishable by up to three years in prison. A Human Rights Watch report published last month documented cases as far back as September in which Qatari security forces arbitrarily arrested LGBT people and subjected them to “ill-treatment in custody.”

Colombian singer Maluma, who was featured on the official World Cup anthem, withdrew from an interview on Israeli television when he was questioned about the Gulf country’s human rights record.

While the Qatar team take on Ecuador in game one at 11am ET on Sunday, in his glamorous press conference, Infantino barely spoke about football and focused his attention on what he called the “hypocrisy” of Western criticism.

Infantino told reporters he knows what it feels like to be discriminated against, saying he was bullied as a child because of his red hair and freckles.

Today I feel like a cat. Today I feel like an Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel like myself. Today I feel helpless. “Today I feel like a migrant worker,” he told a stunned audience.

“I feel this, all of it, because what I was seeing and what I was told, since I don’t read, otherwise I would get depressed I guess.

“What I saw brings me back to my personal story. I am the son of migrant workers. My parents worked very hard in difficult situations.”

Infantino said progress had been made in Qatar on a number of issues but insisted real change would take time, adding that FIFA would not leave the country after the tournament. He indicated that he believes that some Western journalists will forget these issues.

We need to invest in education, to give them a better future, to give them hope. We must all educate ourselves.”

“Reform and change takes time. It took hundreds of years in our countries in Europe. It takes time everywhere, and the only way to get results is to participate.” […] Not by shouting.”

Human rights groups criticized the FIFA president and his speech. Nicholas McGeehan, director of FairSquare, a non-profit human rights organisation, said in a statement: “Infantino’s comments were as blunt as they were clumsy and suggest that the FIFA president is getting his talking points directly from the Qatari authorities.

Steve Cockburn, Head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International, said in a statement: “In ignoring legitimate criticism of human rights, Gianni Infantino rejects the heavy price paid by migrant workers to make his major tournament possible – as well as FIFA’s responsibility for it.

Infantino also addressed questions about the last-minute decision to ban the sale of alcohol in the eight stadiums that will host the tournament’s 64 matches. In a statement issued by FIFA on Friday, the federation said that alcoholic beverages will be sold in fan areas and licensed venues.

The Islamic state is very conservative and tightly regulates the sale and use of alcoholic beverages.

Qatar said in September it would allow fans with tickets to buy alcoholic beer at World Cup stadiums three hours before kick-off and for an hour after the final whistle, but not during the match.

“Let me first assure you that every decision taken in this World Cup is a joint decision between Qatar and FIFA,” he said. “Every decision is discussed, discussed and made jointly.”

“There will be […] More than 200 places where you can buy alcohol in Qatar and more than 10 fan zones, where more than 100,000 people can drink alcohol at a time.

“I personally think, if you can’t drink beer for three hours a day, you’ll survive.”

“Especially because the same rules already apply in France, or in Spain, or in Portugal, or in Scotland, where beer is not allowed in stadiums now,” he added.

“It seems like it’s becoming a big thing because it’s a Muslim country, or I don’t know why.”

Infantino ended the press conference by insisting that everyone would be safe in Qatar, amid concerns from the LGBTQ community.

Homosexuality in Qatar is illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison, but the FIFA president has promised that this is a tournament for everyone.

“Let me also mention, the LGBT situation. I’ve spoken about this topic with the country’s highest leadership many times, not just once. They have confirmed, and I can confirm, that everyone is welcome,” Infantino said.

“This is a clear requirement from FIFA. Everyone should be welcomed, everyone who comes to Qatar is welcome regardless of religion, race, sexual orientation or belief. Everyone is welcome. This was our demand and the Qatari state adheres to this demand.

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