FIFA President Gianni Infantino raised his eyebrows at a press conference on Saturday over a series of bizarre comments defending the policies of Qatar’s extremely conservative Muslim government, while insisting that he remains “200% in control” of the tournament as concerns grow that Qatari officials allegedly bribed FIFA to secure hosting rights over the United States have taken full control of the events.
Infantino claimed Qatar’s last-minute decision to ban beer sales outside stadiums, which stunned Budweiser and other advertisers, was made in conjunction with FIFA, calling the ban “clever “and something FIFA should have considered earlier.
He also hit back at critics who are avoiding the tournament because of human rights abuses, such as the reported deaths of 6,500 migrant workers who built World Cup stadiums, saying he confronted the authorities about it while saying that Europeans “should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start giving people moral lessons.”
Infantino also played down concerns that LGBTQ fans are risking their safety by attending the World Cup, even though homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, citing assurances from Qatari authorities that “everyone is welcome”.
The FIFA president has slammed reports that the Qatari government has hired fake fans to attend events due to lack of interest from Western countries, calling it “pure racism”.
“Don’t criticize Qatar. Let people enjoy this World Cup,” Infantino told reporters.
Infantino said “I’m not African, I’m not gay, I’m not disabled” but added “I feel like it” while saying he knows what it means to be discriminated against because he was bullied as the son of Italian immigrants with “red hair and freckles” growing up in Switzerland. Later, he blurted out, “I feel like a woman too!”
The decision to award the World Cup to the small oil-rich Persian Gulf state has been criticized since it won the hosting rights in 2010, beating a competing bid from the United States. The vote was plagued by allegations of corruption and many senior FIFA officials were subsequently arrested for endemic corruption within the organisation, which is football’s main governing body. This World Cup will also be unprecedented in that it will take place in the fall, instead of the traditional summer window, due to the extreme heat present in Qatar during the summer months. The decision to move the World Cup schedule is a massive disruption for European clubs, most of which play a season from August to May. A YouGov poll released last week found that respondents in most major Western countries do not think it is appropriate for Qatar to host major sporting events.
The opener between Qatar and Ecuador is scheduled for Sunday at 11 a.m. Eastern Time in Qatar’s first appearance in the 92-year history of the World Cup. Qatar has been accused of bribing members of the Ecuadorian team more than $7 million to kick off the game.
‘I feel gay, disabled… like a woman too!’ : Infantino launches bizarre attack on critics (The Guardian)
Revealed: 6,500 migrant workers have died in Qatar since the World Cup was awarded (The Guardian)
‘Well, that’s embarrassing’: Beer banned from Qatar World Cup stadiums after last-minute U-turn (Forbes)