'I feel gay, Arab and disabled': FIFA boss Infantino's bizarre defence of Qatar ahead of World Cup

19 November 2022, 11:32 | Updated: 19 November 2022, 16:00

Mr Infantino has been criticised for his comments
Mr Infantino has been criticised for his comments. Picture: Getty

By Kit Heren

The head of FIFA has been criticised for a bizarre speech defending Qatar ahead of the World Cup, in which he said he feels gay, Arab and disabled, among several other identities.

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Qatar has been slammed for its treatment of gay people and minorities, but FIFA chief Gianni Infantino said on Saturday that European people should not judge other cultures.

He added that he understood what it was like to face discrimination because he had red hair and freckles as a child.

Ahead of the opening game of the tournament on Sunday, Mr Infantino said: "We have told many, many lessons from some Europeans, from the western world.

The Italian added: "I think for what we Europeans have been doing the last 3,000 years we should be apologising for next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people."

He went on: "Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arabic. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel (like) a migrant worker.

"Of course I am not Qatari, I am not an Arab, I am not African, I am not gay, I am not disabled. But I feel like it, because I know what it means to be discriminated, to be bullied, as a foreigner in a foreign country. As a child I was bullied - because I had red hair and freckles, plus I was Italian so imagine.

"What do you do then? You try to engage, make friends. Don't start accusing, fighting, insulting, you start engaging. And this is what we should be doing."

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Mr Infantino was criticised for skating over the conditions endured by migrant workers at the World Cup.

Mustafa Qadri, who runs human rights research group Equidem, said: "Infantino’s speech was an insult to the 1000s of hard working women & men who made World Cup possible. He had a perfect opportunity to acknowledge that 1000s from the poorest countries came to the richest only to face exploitation & discrimination.

"Every day workers are contacting Equidem about unpaid wages, abuse & being terrified about speaking out for fear of retaliation from employers. Infantino should establish a comprehensive compensation fund & demand Qatar establish an independent migrant workers centre."

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Times reporter Henry Winter called the press conference "mad".

He said: "Gianni Infantino's mad monologue made King Lear look balanced. Either nobody close to the Fifa president questions him or gives him good advice - or he simply doesn't listen."

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It comes amid a chaotic build up to the World Cup, with fan accommodation appearing unfinished and beer banned from stadiums just 48 hours before the tournament starts.

Supporters shared photos and videos online of the cabins they are staying in - at £185 per night - ahead of the World Cup opener between Qatar and Ecuador on Sunday.

Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in Saudi Arabia
Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani . Picture: Getty

Images show heaps of sand and rubble at the 'fan village', industrial machines left strewn around the site, and ripped up turf.

The Rawdat Al Jahhaniya fan village, where tens of thousands of England and Wales fans are staying, is also missing a promised cinema screen and tennis court.

A 'fitness centre' is actually just a few items of outdoor equipment, while the site is also marked by a giant crater.

Food will be served in a large tent, and a Starbucks van will also be on site.

The cabins themselves are fitted with tiny air conditioning units that do not cool the rooms properly and are too loud to keep on at night, fans said.

Meanwhile the sale of beer was banned in World Cup stadiums on Friday in a u-turn following intense pressure from Qatar's royal family. The sale of alcohol is usually strictly controlled in Qatar.

An official FIFA statement read: "Following discussions between host country authorities and FIFA, a decision has been made to focus the sale of alcoholic beverages on the FIFA Fan Festival, other fan destinations and licensed venues, removing sales points of beer from Qatar's FIFA World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters."