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WORLD CUP 2022

Infantino says he feels “Qatari, Arab, gay, disabled, a migrant worker”

In an extraordinary rant on the eve of the World Cup, Infantino criticised just about everyone on Earth.

Joe Brennan
Update:
19 November 2022, Qatar, Al-Rajjan: Soccer, preparation for the World Cup in Qatar, FIFA press conference, FIFA President Gianni Infantino speaks at a PK. Photo: Robert Michael/dpa (Photo by Robert Michael/picture alliance via Getty Images)
picture allianceGetty

Today I have very strong feelings. Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel Gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker.” No, these are not the words scrawled on the wall of His Majesty’s Prison Belmarsh, these are the words of the President of FIFA, Gianni Infantino, a day before the World Cup is set to begin.

What did FIFA President Infantino say ahead of the World Cup?

Yes, dear reader, he really did say that to a room full of the world’s journalists. In what I can only describe as an extraordinary move (any other word will get me into trouble), the FIFA President said that “I’m not Qatari, African, gay, disabled and I’m not really a migrant worker, but I know what it means to be discriminated & bullied. As a foreigner in a foreign country, as a child at school, I was bullied because I had red hair and freckles. I was bullied for that.”

Infantino looks down at the World Cup. The tournament starts tomorrow in Qatar.
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Infantino looks down at the World Cup. The tournament starts tomorrow in Qatar. Petr David JosekAP

I too am now imagining baby Infantino with a red mop and freckles, like a mini euro-Trump, galavanting through the Swiss hillside. Infantino says he knows what it’s like to be bullied. I suppose then, that he feels immense, heartfelt sorrow for the 6,500 workers that have died bringing his pocket-lining desert fantasy to life over the past ten years. “Who is actually caring about the workers?”, he continues, “FIFA does, football does, the World Cup does and to be fair to them, Qatar does as well. I was at an event a few days ago where we explained what we were doing at this World Cup for disabled people.”

Infantino’s comments on migrant workers

The debate around migrant workers has raged on for a decade, with people from Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and beyond coming to Qatar to find jobs. Many of these workers had been working in appalling conditions in near 50º heat, unable to return to their families and earning the most basic of wages. Infantino, however, sees the Qatari system as something to be copied. “Europe could do as Qatar did. Create some channels, some legal channels, where a number of those workers could come to Europe. Low revenues. But give them some work, some future, some hope.”

A couple of weeks ago, Infantino asked everyone to “focus on the football” and not the outstanding concerns regarding LGBTQ+ laws (being gay is illegal in Qatar) and migrant worker rights. In a speech that lasted almost an hour, Infantino didn’t mention tomorrow’s game once. “When it comes to compensation of workers, you should know there is a legal framework to cover workers’ compensation. We are in a sovereign country. Do you think FIFA can go to England or Italy and say ‘we will establish a system for migrant workers in your country’?”

“Who is actually caring about the workers? FIFA does, football does, the World Cup does & to be fair to them Qatar does as well. I was at an event a few days ago where we explained what we were doing at this WC for disabled people... 400 journalists are here [at my press conference]; [the disabled event] was covered by 4 journalists. There is 1 billion disabled people in the world. Nobody cares. Nobody cares. Four journalists.”

“Gay people are welcome in Qatar”

Then, at long last, the press conference actually turned into a press conference. Ex-Sky Sports journalist Bryan Swanson, now FIFA’s Head of Media, selected which journalists could ask questions to the President.

Infantino was asked whether it is hypocritical to promote values and inclusivity all while hosting a World Cup in a country like Qatar, he responded, “if you were to exclude all countries with human rights problems, only you and me would be playing football. I think it is real that football brings people together and unites the world. We have to welcome everybody. Gay people are welcome in Qatar.” Maybe Mr. Infantino is unaware that the Qatari ambassador to the World Cup said recently that being gay was “haram”, meaning unlawful or forbidden. That was before he said that being gay was “damage in the mind.”

Infantino would repeat his line of ‘football working to bring people together’ and ‘engaging with people’, even when not specifically questioned on that matter, like a caged parrot repeats a line from a CD on loop in the pet shop. He sat there, sometimes back in his chair, sometimes arched forward over the desk, calmly responding to the backlash over his ludicrous opening comments like it was nothing.

“If [the u-turn over beer sales] is the biggest issue we have for the World Cup, I will sign immediately and go to the beach and relax until 18th of December,” he said. Maybe it’s best you go check out that beach anyway, Gianni.

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