The Fifa president, Gianni Infantino, has hit back at criticism of Qatar from Europe in a press conference on the eve of the World Cup.
The game’s global governing body has been attacked for its decision to take the finals to Qatar, where the treatment of migrant workers and the rights of LGBTQ+ people have been in the spotlight leading up to the finals.
“We have [been] told many, many lessons from some Europeans, from the western world,” Infantino said on Saturday. “I think for what we Europeans have been doing [for] the last 3,000 years we should be apologising for [the] next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.”
Infantino began his speech by saying: “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arabic. 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 an Arab, I am not African, I am not gay, I am not disabled. But I feel like it, because I know what it means to be discriminated [against], to be bullied, as a foreigner in a foreign country.
“As a child I was bullied – because I had red hair and freckles, plus I was Italian so imagine. What do you do then? You try to engage, make friends. Don’t start accusing, fighting, insulting, you start engaging. And this is what we should be doing.”
Infantino moved to play down the impact of Qatar’s late U-turn on allowing alcohol to be sold inside stadiums. “Honestly, if this is the biggest [problem] we have for the World Cup I will sign immediately. Let me assure you that every decision that is taken at this World Cup is a joint decision.”
“It is discussed, debated and taken jointly. There will be many fan zones: eight to 10. Over 200 places you can drink alcohol. I think personally for three hours a day if you cannot drink, you will survive. The same rules in France, Spain and Scotland, where no beer is allowed in stadiums.”
Infantino did accept that the U-turn was “very bad for Budweiser,” who are an official World Cup sponsor. “Budweiser is a great partner of Fifa and a few weeks ago we were shaking hands to continue our partnership with 2026,” the Swiss added. “Partners are partners in good and bad times, in difficult and easy times.”
The Fifa’ president’s press conference lasted more than an hour, and ended with an instruction to assembled journalists not to criticise the host nation. “If you need to criticise anybody, don’t put pressure on the players, the coaches. You want to criticise. You can crucify me. I’m here for that. Don’t criticize anyone. Don’t criticise Qatar. Let people enjoy this World Cup.”
“Do we want to continue to spit on the others because they look different, or they feel different?” he continued. “We defend human rights. We do it our way. We obtain results. We got women fans in Iran; the Women’s League was created in Iran. Let’s celebrate. Don’t divide.”