By Samindra Kunti in Doha
November 19 – In what was probably the most remarkable, unhinged and illogical rant ever made by a leading sports administrator, the kind of nonsense straight out of the Donald Trump play book, FIFA president Gianni Infantino embarqed on an almost-hour-long justification of the Qatar 2022 World Cup and chastisement of the western world.
If it was an intention to draw the football world and different cultures together in a celebration of the world game, it failed abysmally. All it has achieved is a greater distrust in FIFA and its Qatar 2022 World Cup, and widened a gap between east and west cultures that this World Cup should have dramatically closed.
For Infantino personally it portrayed him as a somewhat despotic leader surrounded by sycophantic generals, all trying to please their Qatari paymasters. In an hour that should have brought a focus on football and the joy of the matches to come and the cultural diversity of what used to be the greatest show on earth, Infantino has turned the attention firmly on to politics and cultural division.
Even his most ardent federation supporters – bought and paid for via their FIFA grant money – would have wondered what was going through his mind.
“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,” opened Infantino, setting the tone for a rambling, utterly jaw-dropping, at times shocking, and too-often political monologue, defending Qatar as World Cup hosts and accusing the West and its media of hypocrisy.
Infantino variously lectured the global media on morality, geopolitics and football, taking on European critics of this World Cup, just weeks after sending a letter to the 32 finalists not to be dragged into ideological and political battles and days after jetting off to the G-20 in Indonesia.
He presented his own life as that of a migrant. Furious, Infantino took on the mantle of a victim as a foreigner in Switzerland, a bullied kid at school.
“As a foreigner in a foreign country,” explained Infantino. “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.”
He then took the opportunity to blast Europe and its press corps, moralizing to his audience. “We have been taught many lessons from Europeans and the Western world,” said Infantino. “I am European…We should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before starting to give more lessons to people.”
“How many of these European or Western business companies who earn millions from Qatar, billions, how many of them have addressed migrant workers’ rights with the authorities?
“None of them, because if you change the legislation it means less profit. But we did, and FIFA generates much less than any of these companies from Qatar.”
Infantino who said he was not defending Qatar was doing just that, delivering the host nation’s talking point.
He repeated that labour reform has been substantial. He also said that he got it from the highest authority in Qatar that everyone, including members of the LGBT community, is welcome for the World Cup. He said that acceptance of the LGBT community was a process and that his own father would have probably not accepted homosexuality. “They’ve (the Qatari organisers) confirmed and I can confirm that everyone here is welcome,” said Infantino. “If you have a person here and there who says the opposite, it’s not the opinion of the country. It’s certainly not the opinion of FIFA.”
“This moral lesson giving, it’s one-sided,” said Infantino. “That is just hypocrisy. I wonder why no one recognizes the progress that has been made? The kafala system was abolished… ILO acknowledged it. The media don’t, some don’t.”
He added: “Qatar offers hope [to migrant workers], they earn ten times more than at home.” Even so, is this really the justification that it is OK to abuse them and for more than 6,500 of them to have lost their lives building infrastructure for your tournament – is there no responsibility to be taken?
Attacking Europe, he argued that “because of European policy 25,000 migrants died – 1200 this year – died. Why did no one ask for compensation when these migrants died?”
Infantino was relentless in his verbal beatdown of European and western media critics, instantly becoming Qatar’s biggest supporter.
He also announced “a dedicated International Labour Organisation Office in Doha…where migrant workers can go, unions can be integrated and seek assistance.”
FIFA will also open its World Cup legacy fund to outside investors who can then decide what that money is used for. But those announcements were lost in the endless, astounding diatribe of Infantino’s design.
The backlash was immediate. Reflecting the mood, the chief football writer of the Times tweeted: “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. He’s living in a bubble, turning into Blatter, embarrassing himself and the game.”
He is right, but not even Blatter ever came out with this kind of world dividing stupidity.
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