Fifa president Gianni Infantino has accused the West of “hypocrisy” in its reporting about Qatar’s human rights record, on the eve of the World Cup.
In an extraordinary monologue at a news conference in Doha, Infantino spoke for nearly an hour and made a passionate defence of Qatar and the tournament.
The event has been overshadowed by issues in Qatar including deaths of migrant workers and treatment of LGBT people.
Infantino, who was born in Switzerland, said European nations should apologise for acts committed in their own histories, rather than focussing on migrant workers’ issues in Qatar.
He opened by saying: “Today I have strong feelings. Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel a migrant worker.”
Hosts Qatar kick off the tournament against Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday (16:00 GMT).
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In February 2021, the Guardian said 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since its successful World Cup bid.
The number is based on figures provided by the countries’ embassies in Qatar.
However, the Qatar government said the total was misleading, because not all the deaths recorded were of people working on World Cup-related projects.
The government said its accident records showed there were 37 deaths among labourers at World Cup stadium construction sites between 2014 and 2020, only three of which were “work-related”.
However, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) said that was an underestimate.
Infantino said: “We have been taught many lessons from Europeans and the Western world. I am European. For what we have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons.
“If Europe really care about the destiny of these people, they can create legal channels – like Qatar did – where a number of these workers can come to Europe to work. Give them some future, some hope.
“I have difficulties understanding the criticism. We have to invest in helping these people, in education and to give them a better future and more hope. We should all educate ourselves. Many things are not perfect but reform and change takes time.
“This one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy. I wonder why no-one recognises the progress made here since 2016.
“It is not easy to take the critics of a decision that was made 12 years ago. Qatar is ready. It will be the best World Cup ever.
“I don’t have to defend Qatar, they can defend themselves. I defend football. Qatar has made progress and I feel many other things as well.
“Of course I am not Qatari, Arab, African, gay, disabled or a migrant worker. But I feel like them because I know what it means to be discriminated and bullied as a foreigner in a foreign country.
“As a child I was bullied because I had red hair and freckles. I was bullied for that.”
Speaking later on Saturday, England defender Eric Dier said: “The World Cup was awarded to Qatar in 2010 and I was 16 at the time. We as players have no decision on where we play. Those decisions are made above us.
“It’s a difficult situation for us. Every team and player will face it through the tournament. It’s disappointing.”
Qatar boss Felix Sanchez said: “A lot has been said about this, some misinformation and some of the comments were not completely fair. The loss of human life during working hours is the greatest tragedy, whether here in Qatar or anywhere in the world.
“Let’s hope at this World Cup we can all together work to benefit the conditions for these groups, not just in Qatar but everywhere in the world.”
Qatar has been under pressure to build a migrant workers’ centre and Infantino announced a “dedicated and permanent office” in Doha, following discussions with the government and the ILO.
He also said every worker that had an accident “receives compensation by law”.
“Depending on the magnitude, it can be several years of salary,” he added.
Infantino also said Fifa’s Qatar 2022 legacy fund will go into education, signing an agreement that will help 25 million children and women in India.
FIFA President Gianni Infantino at news conference in Doha: “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” pic.twitter.com/GozWBXd1Fd
— Dan Roan (@danroan) November 19, 2022