FIFA President Gianni Infantino has launched an astonishing attack on the “racist” and “hypocritical” west for daring to criticise Qatar.
In an hour-long diatribe that left a room of international reporters open-mouthed in disbelief, the Swiss told European critics they were deliberately misrepresenting the host nation.
Infantino started by claiming: “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.
“Of course I am not Qatari, Arab, gay or disabled.
“But I was the son of a migrant worker, saw their conditions. Not in Qatar, but Switzerland.
“As a child I was bullied because I had red hair and freckles. Plus I was Italian and didn’t speak German.
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“What do you do? You look down, go to your room and cry and then you try to make some friends, to speak and engage and get these friends to engage with others.”
Infantino went on: “This criticism is profoundly unjust.
“You don’t start accusing, fighting, insulting. You start engaging.
“We have heard many moral lessons from Europe and the western world.
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“But for what we Europeans have done over the past 3,000 years we should apologise for the next 3000 years before starting to give moral lessons here.
“Reform and change takes time. It took hundred of years in Europe.
“The only way to compare results is by engaging and dialogue, not by hammering and insults.”
Fifa was forced into an embarrassing U-turn when the sale of alcohol was suddenly banned in any of the eight World Cup stadiums.
That raised questions over whether the promises made by the Qatari authorities over the treatment of gay fans were trustworthy.
Infantino said: “I can confirm that everyone is welcome. I have had this conversation several times.
“Anyone who says the opposite, it is not the opinion of the country or of Fifa.
“Everyone who comes to Qatar must be welcome and is welcome. Whatever religion, race, sexual orientaton.
“That is our requirement and the Qatari state will stick to that.
“You will tell me there is legislation here, you can go to jail for being gay.
“But that legislation exists in many countries. It was there in Switzerland in 1954 when they organised the World Cup.
“Yes, you can say that it is bad that it is not allowed to be publicly gay. Of course I believe it should be allowed but I went through a process.
“We have to welcome everybody. It is right that football brings people together.
“But how many gay people were prosecuted in the past in Europe? We seem to forget that WE went through a process.”
Call for unity
Infantino claimed that Fifa’s pressure on the Qataris had been responsible for significant changes in working conditions for the hundreds of thousands of migrant labourers in the country, including meeting some of the demands from European nations.
He added: “Since 2014, 25,000 migrants have died trying to get into Europe.
“The last Canton in Switzerland only gave the vote to women in the 1990s, and that needed the Supreme Court to make it happens. This was the mentality in Europe just a few years ago.
“So all I am asking is engage, help, don’t divide. The world is divided enough.
“I have read things this week that some fans shouldn’t cheer for England because they look Indian.
“This is racism. This is pure racism. Everyone in the world has the right to cheer for who they want.
“They have different lives. You want to have a moment where you can concentrate on football, something we love. The problems don’t go away but you can have a moment.
“So criticise Fifa and me but let the people enjoy this World Cup.
“It’s once every four years. Don’t criticise the country. Do we want to continue to spit on the Arabs just because they look different?”
Infantino was sitting head to Fifa’s head of communications and former Sky Sports Chief Reporter Bryan Swanson, who intervened at the end of the conference to announce: “I’m sitting here as a gay man in Qatar.
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“We have received assurances that everyone is welcome and I believe everybody will be welcome.
“Just because Gianni Infantino is not gay doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. He does care. When he says we are inclusive, he means it.”
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