FIFA president slams Western ‘hypocrisy’ over Qatar criticism

In fiery news conference, Gianni Infantino said Western countries were not in a position to give ‘moral lessons’.

Infantino, son of migrant workers from Italy, said the Middle Eastern country has 'made progress' in improving the rights of migrant workers [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Doha, Qatar – FIFA President Gianni Infantino accused Western countries of “hypocrisy” saying they were not in a position to give “moral lessons” to other nations, hours before the World Cup kicks off in Qatar.

In a fiery news conference in the Qatari capital on the eve of the tournament, the Swiss Italian said Europe should address its past crimes before pointing fingers at Qatar.

“I’m European. For what we Europeans have been doing around the world in the last 3,000 years, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people,” Infantino told hundreds of reporters on Saturday.

Qatar, which was awarded the right to host the global football tournament in 2010, has received criticism for its treatment of migrant workers and human rights record.

Infantino, son of migrant workers from Italy, said the Middle Eastern country has “made progress” in improving the rights of migrant workers.

“I came here six years ago and addressed the matter of migrant workers straight on, in my very first meeting,” Infantino said, pausing and looking straight at the gathered journalists.

“How many of these European or Western business companies, who earned millions and millions from Qatar and other countries in the region – billions every year – how many of them addressed the rights of migrant workers with the authorities?

“I have the answer for you. None of them,” the FIFA chief said, adding “the one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy.”

Mexican fans gather at Souq Waqif before the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar [Sorin Furcoi/Al Jazeera]

Homosexuality is illegal in the country, but Qatar has said all fans are welcome to attend the showpiece event.

“I have been speaking about this topic with the highest leadership of the country. Several times, not just once. They have confirmed, I can confirm, that everyone is welcome,” the FIFA president said.

In remarks to reporters at the end of the news conference, FIFA media chief Bryan Swanson, who is gay, insisted everyone is welcome in Qatar.

“I’ve seen a lot of criticism of Gianni Infantino since I’ve joined FIFA, in particular from the LGBTQ community,” Swanson said.

“I’m sitting here in a privileged position on a global stage as a gay man here in Qatar. We have received assurances that everybody is welcome and I believe that everybody will be welcome in this World Cup,” he added.

Critics also questioned Qatar, the first country in the Arab world to host the competition, for banning the sale of alcohol inside stadiums during the tournament.

“Every decision that is taken in this World Cup, it is a joint decision between Qatar and FIFA. Every decision is discussed, debated and taken jointly. There will be, I don’t know how many, fan zones – eight, 10, big fan zones, over 200 places where you can buy alcohol,” Infantino said.

He also pointed out this was not unusual as drinking inside football stadiums is banned in major European nations such as France, Spain, Portugal and Scotland.

Despite some critics calling for companies to boycott the World Cup, Infantino hailed the “commercial success” of this year’s tournament.

“We sold the media rights for around $200m more than the last World Cup,” he said. “We sold the sponsorship rights for also around $200m more than the last World Cup.

“And as far as ticketing and hospitality rights are concerned, we are at almost 200 to 300 million more than the last World Cup.”

Qatar will kick off the 32-team tournament on Sunday against Ecuador. Infantino said the Gulf country has done impressive work in preparing for the matches.

“Doha is ready. Qatar is ready. It will be the best World Cup ever, of course,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera