The decision to host the FIFA’s showpiece event in Qatar – a country with a chequered past on human rights issues, its treatment of migrant workers and the illegality of homosexuality – has drawn widespread criticism, but in an extraordinary riposte, Infantino was unrepentant.
“Today I’ve very strong feelings. 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,” Infantino said in the pre-tournament press conference at the Main Media Centre at the Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha.
On migrant workers
I feel all this because what I’ve been seeing and what I’ve been told, since I don’t read, otherwise I’ll be depressed. What I see brings me back to my personal story.
I’m a son of migrant workers, my parents were working hard in very difficult conditions, not in Qatar but in Switzerland, I remember it very well. I know the rights migrants in Switzerland had. I remember as a child how migrant workers were treated when they wanted to enter a country and look for work.
On Arab culture
Of course, I’m not Qatari, I’m not Arab, I’m not African, I’m not gay, I’m not disabled, I’m not a migrant worker but I feel like them because I know what it feels to be discriminated against by a bully.
As a foreigner in a foreign county, as a child at school, I was bullied at school because I had red hair and freckles. I was Italian, and didn’t speak good German. “What do you do? You lock yourself down, go to your room and cry. And then you try to make some friends, to engage, make friends. And then you try to make these friends engage with others.
Infantino’s “I feel gay” comment immediately prompted accusations of hypocrisy on social media given he heads an organisation that is staging the World Cup in a country with such an oppressive outlook on homosexuality.
He added, “If we were to exclude all these countries, you’re playing football with just you and me. I think football has to bring people together and I think we’ve to welcome everybody. Gay people are welcome in Qatar – we need to engage, don’t provoke. We’ve to have our beliefs, engage and explain. I think provocation is the wrong way. I may be right, may be wrong. I try to engage.”
“I’m proud to have this FIFA sign on my jacket. It’s not easy to read all the criticism from a decision taken 12 years ago. Qatar is ready and it will be the best World Cup ever. As soon as the ball rolls, people will focus on that,” he concluded.
For the records, Qatar 2022, a 29-day affair, will be the shortest World Cup in FIFA history with matches being held at eight venues. The final will be held at the Lusail Stadium on December 18, incidentally, the Qatar National Day.