FIFA President Gianni Infantino sets the big theme before the World Cup. His one-hour plea for host Qatar went around the world. The West comes off particularly badly. The criticism is massive.
Appeared with rolled up sleeves and a big grin Gianni Infantino on the big stage. “Are you feeling alright?” shouted the shirtless FIFA President to the crowd celebrating Fanfest under the Doha evening sky on Saturday night.
He seemed a bit more removed than a few hours earlier during his worldwide sensational, one-hour justification in the press center of the highly controversial World Cup Qatarwhich had made him feel irritatingly much himself.
“Today I feel Qatari, today I feel Arab, today I feel African. Today I feel homosexual. Today I feel handicapped, today I feel like a migrant worker,” said Infantino in the introduction – and thus set the tone a keynote speech against a “double standards“From the west against Qatar and for the World Cup hosts, whom he practically acquitted of all allegations. He should be criticized, please: “Here I am, you can crucify me, that’s what I’m here for.”
Criticism of Infantino
The Swiss led an “explosive tirade against Western criticism,” wrote the US broadcaster CNN. On Saturday, Amnesty International reacted strongly to his statements about the allegedly significantly improved living conditions of migrant workers. Its head of economic, social and cultural rights, Steve Cockburn, said: “By brushing aside legitimate criticisms of the human rights record, Gianni Infantino dismisses the enormous price migrant workers have had to pay to make his flagship tournament possible – as well as the responsibility of FIFA Therefore.”
On Sunday, a few hours before the opening game between Qatar and Ecuador, the elite of the national associations met at the very luxurious Fairmont Hotel. Again Infantino took center stage. Shaking his head was the most gracious reaction to the press conference, as a high-ranking official of the European Football Union UEFA said in the brightly lit lobby of the German Press Agency. Infantino had done what he had criticized in the West, even if he presented fundamentally valid arguments on some points: split.
On Sunday evening at the World Cup opening ceremony, the FIFA President sat between Qatar’s head of state Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who has been accused of serious human rights abuses. “Let’s celebrate football because football connects the world,” said the Swiss. The stadium cheered.
Denmark’s sporting director “shocked”
“When I saw the FIFA President yesterday, I was shocked, and at that moment I was ashamed to be a part of this event,” said Denmark’s sporting director Peter Möller of the German Press Agency. “I found it embarrassing. This is the man who shapes the image of football and who could actually show what football can do.”
Again and again the 52-year-old Infantino had changed the pace of his speech, built in small pauses. Once he picked up the football placed in front of him on the podium in the Great Hall of the Qatar National Convention Centre. “It’s the only weapon we have,” he said. His messages on human rights, migrant workers, freedom for the LGBTQI+ community seemed tweaked for a long time. “The world is divided enough, a World Cup is a World Cup, it’s not a war,” said Infantino. “We have to take a critical look at ourselves in the mirror.”
FIFA boss denounces “double standards”.
Qatar had been heavily criticized in recent years, especially from western nations. For Infantino, who related his own story as the son of a guest worker family in Switzerland, in a “hypocritical” way. “I think what we Europeans have done worldwide over the past 3,000 years, we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start distributing moral advice to others,” said the 52-year-old. It is “sad” to have to experience this “double standard”.
As never before in recent months, the FIFA President sided with the government of the country in which he has had a secondary residence for a long time. The speech of his predecessor Joseph Blatter before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, in which he had raved about football on other planets, was nothing compared to this.
“Who takes care of the workers? Who? FIFA does it, football does it, the World Cup does it – and, to be fair, Qatar does it too,” said Infantino, referring, among other things, to a planned office of the international Labor Organization (ILO) in Doha. He announced that the so-called Legacy Fund, into which proceeds from the World Cup will flow, will be applied more globally and, above all, that children will be lifted out of poverty. A small “ray of hope”, said Cockburn – but only if a “significant part of the six billion US dollars” is invested.
“How many of these Western companies that are receiving billions from Qatar here – how many of them have talked about migrant workers’ rights? None of them,” Infantino said, without giving examples. The compensation fund for workers and their families from South Asia, also demanded by the German Football Association, already exists, albeit in a different form, initiated by Qatar. He was “convinced” that the World Cup could help “open people’s eyes”.
No clear statements on Regenogen colors
Homosexuality is forbidden in Qatar, but that has been the case in European countries for a long time, argued Infantino, referring to an ongoing development process. He had received clear assurances that “everyone, everyone” would be welcome at the World Cup in Qatar. One of the local World Cup ambassadors recently described being gay as “mental damage” in a ZDF documentary. That’s not “the attitude of the country,” Infantino said, without specifically addressing the statement.
The FIFA President briefly reported personal hostilities, and his spokesman, former British Sky journalist Bryan Swanson, jumped to his side at the end of the press conference. “There was also a lot of criticism from the LGBTQ community. I’m sitting here as a gay man and we have received this guarantee,” said the 42-year-old. FIFA takes care of everyone. “I have some gay colleagues.”
Infantino avoided a clear statement as to whether the captains of the World Cup participants could wear an armband in the rainbow colors symbolic of the LGBTQ community. FIFA is something “universal and we have to find issues that everyone can identify with,” he said. LGBT is the English abbreviation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The variants LGBTQ, LGBTQI or LGBTQIA+ are also often used. Each letter represents one’s gender identity or sexual orientation.