WORLD CUP: Fifa’s Infantino hits back and claims it’s media who are racist

Pictured above: Fifa president Gianni Infantino at a press conference ahead of the World Cup. 

Infantino defends ‘No Beer’ decision and Fifa attitude to plight of migrant workers and LGBTQ+ rights in Qatar 

In a confrontational one-hour address, Infantino made several claims in defence of FIFA’s attitude to migrant worker rights in Qatar and guaranteed the LGBTQ+ community’s safety during the tournament, despite homosexuality being illegal in the host country.

It was revealed last night that migrant workers would be paid 35p an hour ovger a 12 hour day for providing the security in Qatar.

“One day before the World Cup kicks off, I have very strong feelings,” Infantino began. “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled.

“Today I feel like a migrant worker.

Concerning widespread fears for the safety of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and queer people at the World Cup, Infantino has spoken to the “highest leadership” in Qatar – the emir is Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani – and he confirmed that “everyone is welcome.”

“Now you will tell me, ‘Yeah, but there is legislation which prohibit whatever and you will have to go to jail.’ But these legislations exist in many countries in the world. They existed in Switzerland in 1954 when they hosted the World Cup.

“So, again, like for the workers, these are processes … of course I believe it should be allowed as Fifa president, but I went through a process.”

Dan Roan from the BBC challenged the president on saying he “felt gay,” because if that was the truth, he would be admitting illegality under Qatari law.

“How many gay people were prosecuted in Europe?” Infantino responded. “It was a process, we went through a process, that we seem to forget.”

In an effort to refocus media coverage on the football, he added: “We are organising a World Cup, we are not organising a war. Look at the city, it’s beautiful, people are happy when the teams come.”

On the ‘fake fan’ theory, Infantino criticised reports about “people who don’t look English, they shouldn’t cheer for the English, because they look like Indians – I mean what is that?”

“You know what this is, this is racism. This is pure racism.”

Paid supporters’ daily food allowance was cancelled by Qatar’s World Cup organising committee due to “recent developments in the media”, according to a letter sent by the committee to a fan group, that noted “erroneous misinformed statements regarding “fans receiving payment for the trip.’”

Infantino claimed that since 2018 over $350 million has been paid out of the Qatari government’s compensation scheme for workers on construction sites around the World Cup.

“The majority for unpaid wages,” he added, “but also for accidents.”

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International, insist that wage theft of migrants continues to be rampant in Qatar.

Infantino believes that migrant worker conditions in Doha are similar to Europe, while conceding that higher wages are paid in western countries, but he failed to mention the absence of trade unions in Qatar.

“If there was no gas nobody would care. That is why workers come. Who cares about the workers? Fifa does, football does, and to be fair to them, Qatar does.”

He told a story about working with Qatar’s foreign ministry to “rescue” over 160 female Afghan footballers from the Taliban regime, and rehousing them in Doha facilities built for the World Cup, while claiming European and North American countries refused to offer the same assistance.

“Last year when the Taliban took over again in Afghanistan, and the United States left, many people were in a difficult situation as far as football is concerned, many female football players in particular. We wanted to see how we could help. It was very difficult … but thanks to the head of Qatar we have been able to rescue over 160 girls and women mainly, from Afghanistan [and bring them] to Qatar.

“We did so because we were promised by many countries, in the western world, before we got them out that they would of course welcome them. 160, not 1,600 or 60,000.

“My feeling is they promised because they believed we would never be able to get them out of the country. But once we got them out of the country, thanks to the help of Qatar, who brought them to Doha … all the European countries and North American countries closed their doors. ‘Ah sorry, no, we cannot. No, we cannot.’

“The only country that said ‘well, bring them here because we know what it means to suffer, to run away from your country,’ was Albania.”

The Irish Times asked Fifa to clarify these remarks and confirm the current whereabouts of the 160 female footballers from Afghanistan.

On the eve of the opening match between the hosts and Ecuador at Al Bayt stadium, Infantino said Europe also had much to apologise for regarding human rights.

“We get told many lessons from the western world. I am European. For what we Europeans have been doing for the last 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.”

On the eleventh-hour alcohol ban inside and around the eight stadiums, Infantino said “every decision taken in this World Cup is a joint decision between Fifa and Qatar. Every decision”.

“If for three hours a day you cannot drink beer you will survive. Actually, the same rules applies in France, Spain Portugal, Scotland, where no beers are allowed in stadiums. Here it seems to be a big thing, because it is a Muslim country, I don’t know why, we tried. We tried.”

This is in stark contrast to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil when a law on alcohol sales in stadiums was relaxed after former Fifa secretary general Jérôme Valcke stated that beer is “part of the Fifa World Cup. I’m sorry to sound arrogant but that is something we will not negotiate. We have the right to sell beer.”

Eight years later, Infantino was asked if Fifa have lost control of their own tournament.

“I feel 100 per cent we are in control of this World Cup.  Crucify me, I am here for that, don’t criticise Qatar or the players. Criticise Fifa, criticise me, because I am responsible for everything but let the people enjoy the World Cup, it comes once every four years.

“Do we want to continue to spit on the others just because they look different, or they feel different?  We defend human rights, in our own way.”

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times’ Soccer Correspondent

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