The Sports Examiner: FIFA’s Infantino hammers media, critics at pre-World Cup news conference

FIFA President Gianni Infantino at Saturday's amazing news conference (Photo: FIFA video screenshot)

● From our sister site, ●

“This moral lesson-giving, one-sided, it’s just hypocrisy.”

In an extraordinary news conference on Saturday, FIFA President Gianni Infantino (SUI) spoke to an estimated 400 reporters in advance of the 2022 FIFA World Cup for a solid hour before taking questions, pushing back against critics of the federation and of Qatar as the host country.

Infantino spoke from notes, but was not reading a written statement. In his usual, casual style, with a methodical delivery occasionally punctuated with a harder tone, he ran through just about the entire list of complaints that have been leveled at the about-to-start World Cup. He startled the assembly by starting with:

“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.” And then he continued, with 37 minutes of unapologetic comments on FIFA and the migrant worker situation in Qatar:

● “So let’s start with the migrant workers, if you allow me. We have [been] told many, many lessons from some Europeans, from the Western world. I’m European – actually I am European – not just I feel European. I think for what we Europeans have been doing in the last 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologizing for the next 3,000 years, before starting to give moral lessons to people.

“I came here six years ago and addressed the matter of migrant workers, straight on, at my very first meeting. How many of the European or Western business companies, who earn millions and millions from Qatar – or other countries in the region – billions, every year, how many of them have addressed migrant worker’s rights, with the authorities?

“I have the answer to you: none of them. None of them, because [that means changing] the legislation, which means less profit. Instead of one billion, well maybe you make only 900 million. But we did and FIFA generates much, much, much less than any of these companies, from Qatar.”

● “So, speaking about workers, I bumped into a migrant study, not a FIFA study, a Human Rights Watch study, one of these companies that I think is also criticizing certainly FIFA, certainly rightfully, many times, I guess. What that study says, basically, is because of the European migration policy, 25,000 migrants died since 2014, in eight years. A thousand, two hundred only this year. Human beings died.

“So if we take two steps back of this – I also wonder, but I always come back to that – why nobody ask for a compensation to be paid for the families of these migrants who died. Their life is not worth the same? “

● “So if you go two steps back and you look at this issue of migration, and the situation of hundreds of thousands of women and men from developing countries who would like to offer their services abroad, in order to help and to give a future to their families back home, well Qatar is actually offering them this opportunity. Hundreds of thousands of workers of developing countries come here, they earn 10 times more than what they earn in their home country and help their families to survive. And within a legal way.

“We in Europe, we close our borders and we don’t allow practically any worker from these countries, who earn obviously very low income, to work legally in our countries, because we all know there are many illegal workers in our European countries [in] living conditions which are also not really the best. …

“So I wonder why nobody recognized the progress that has been made, since 2016. The kafala system was abolished, minimum wages were introduced, heat protection measures were taken. ILO, international unions acknowledge that, but media don’t, or some don’t.”

Infantino spoke in detail about the main demands of human rights and labor organizations about a migrant help center, compensation for workers who did not receive their wages or were hurt or died, and long-term assurances that the changes already made are permanent. He described each in detail and summarized:

“So we have been seeing [1] there is a permanent office of [International Labor Organisation], or there will be – and we will be back, we will be here to check, don’t worry, because you will be gone – [2] compensation for workers who are not paid or who have accidents, exists, in very significant amounts, and [3] FIFA has a legacy fund for this World Cup.”

Infantino noted that Qatar already has a worker’s support and insurance fund that has paid $350 million in claims since 2018; this in response to calls for FIFA to pay $440 million or more to workers and families injured or killed in the construction of the World Cup stadiums. The Legacy Fund is not a new concept; it was reportedly established after the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and $260 million has been contributed across the 2010-14-18 events.

He then launched into a discussion on “the LGBT situation”:

I have been speaking about this topic with the highest leadership of the country, several times, not just once. They have confirmed and I can confirm that everyone is welcome.

“If you have a person here and there who says the opposite, well it’s not the opinion of the country. And certainly not the opinion of FIFA. This is a clear FIFA requirement; everyone has to be welcomed. Everyone who comes to Qatar is welcome, whatever religion, race, sexual orientation, belief she or he has. Everyone is welcome. This is our requirement and the Qatari state sticks to that requirement.

“Now you will tell me, ‘yeah, but this legislation which prohibit that and whatever’, you have to go to jail, I don’t know what. Yes, these legislations exist in many countries in the world. These legislations existed in Switzerland, when Switzerland organized the World Cup in 1954; I was not born yet.

“So again, like for the workers, these are processes. So what do you want to do about it? You want to stay home and hammer and criticize and say how bad they are: these Arabs or these Muslims or whatever, because it’s not allowed to be publicly gay? Of course, I believe it should be allowed, as FIFA President. But, I went through a process, I went through a process. If I ask the same question to my father, who is not here any more, he would probably have a different answer than me. And my children will have again a different answer than me. So if somebody thinks by just hammering and criticizing, and hammering and criticizing, we will achieve something, well, I can tell you it will achieve exactly the opposite. Because this will be viewed as provocation, and then if you provoke me, I react. And that’s bad.”

And he did not let up, addressing the media directly:

“The only thing I am asking you: engage, help, don’t divide, try to unite. The world is divided enough. We are organizing a World Cup. We’re not organizing a war. We organize a World Cup, where people who have many problems, everyone in his or her life, want to come and enjoy.

“Look at the city, it’s beautiful. It’s beautiful, it’s geared up, people are happy, to celebrate. They were happy when the teams come, and when the teams come, they go to see the teams and what do I read, ‘well, these people they don’t look like English so they shouldn’t cheer for English.’ Because they look like Indians. I mean, what is that? Can somebody who looks like an Indian not cheer for England or for Spain or for Germany? You know what this is. This is racism. This is pure racism. And we have to stop that.”

He also addressed the late ban on sales of beer in the World Cup stadiums, saying “I mean, honestly, if this is the biggest issue we have for the World Cup, I will sign immediately and go to the beach and relax until the 18th of December.” He indicated that AB InBev will continue as a FIFA sponsor through to the 2026 World Cup in Canada, Mexico and the U.S.

He finished with:

“Don’t criticize Qatar, don’t criticize the players, don’t criticize anyone. Criticize FIFA, criticize me if you want, because I am responsible for everything, but let the people enjoy this World Cup.”

It was a stunning performance, but was immediately criticized, of course. An Amnesty International comment included:

“In brushing aside legitimate human rights criticisms, Gianni Infantino is dismissing the enormous price paid by migrant workers to make his flagship tournament possible – as well as FIFA’s responsibility for it. Demands for equality, dignity and compensation cannot be treated as some sort of culture war – they are universal human rights that FIFA has committed to respect in its own statutes.

“If FIFA is to salvage anything from this tournament, it must announce that it will invest a significant part of the $6 billion the organisation will make from this tournament and make sure this fund is used to compensate workers and their families directly.”

CNN reported comments from the human rights organization Equidem’s chief executive, Mustafa Qadri, who said in a statement: “History will not judge this moment kindly. Infantino’s speech was an insult to the thousands of hard-working women and men who have made the World Cup possible.

“He had a perfect opportunity to acknowledge that thousands of women and men from the poorest countries came to the richest only to face deception, exploitation and discrimination.

“Every day workers are contacting Equidem about unpaid wages, abuse and being terrified about speaking out for fear of retaliation from employers. There is a solution here: Infantino should establish a comprehensive compensation fund and demand Qatar establish an independent migrant workers’ centre so workers have a safe space to raise complaints and get the support they need.”

In fact, Infantino covered both of those suggestions in detail. Sky Sports News senior reporter Melissa Reddy, reporting from Qatar said in part:

“What absurd, offensive, misleading thing did he not say? This is extraordinary and unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. …

“It is an absolutely astounding address from the FIFA president and it’s probably even more astounding that he is being re-elected unopposed after being able to say stuff like this.”

~ Rich Perelman

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.