FIFA boss says he feels ‘Arab, Gay, Disabled and Qatari’

FIFA boss Gianni Infantino has told the world’s media that Europe needs to stop criticising Arab nations ahead of the opening of the World Cup.

In a long, and often bizarre, press conference the FIFA boss said that western nations were in no position to give moral lessons to the gulf nation.

“We have been told many, many lessons from some Europeans, from the western world,” he said. “I think for what we Europeans have been doing the last 3,000 years we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.” Infantino said.

Qatar the host nation for the World Cup has been criticised for criminalisation of homosexuality, treatment of women, and for human rights abuses. Some reports suggest that thousands of migrant workers have died while constructing new stadiums and facilities for the competition.

The head of soccer’s governing body opened up his press conference telling reporters he felt like he was simultaneously Qatari, Arab, African, gay and disabled.

“Today I feel Qatari, today I feel Arab, today I feel African, today I feel gay, today I feel disabled, today I feel migrant worker.” Infantino said.

“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.”

Infantino was raised in Switzerland, the son of Italian migrants – something he said gave him insight into discrimination. Later in the press conference when it was noted that he’d possibly left out half of the world’s population in his opening remarks, he added; “I feel like a woman too!”

Infantino said that while many workers had died in the lead up to the World Cup, it was nothing in comparison to the number of refugees who had died trying to reach Europe in recent years, citing estimates of 25,000 migrants and refugees dying since 2014.

“Qatar is offering them this opportunity,” he said. “They do it in a legal way. We in Europe, we close our borders. We don’t allow practically any workers from these countries who are trying to come to work legally in our countries.

“Those who reach Europe, or those who want to come to Europe, they have to go through very difficult journeys. Only a few survive. So if you really care about the destiny of these people – these young people – Europe can do as Qatar did. Create some channels, some legal channels, to increase the percentage of these workers to come to Europe. Give them some work. Give them some future.”

Infantino said employers in Qatar paid foreign workers ten times more than they would earn in their home countries, and often provided better living conditions.

The soccer boss also said activists who highlighted the countries track record of LGBT rights would be pushing back any progress that was being experienced by Qatari people. Infantino said acceptance of gay people takes generations and he believed criticism of the Qatari laws would ‘shut the doors that were beginning to open’ in the country.

“Let me mention as well, the LGBT situation. I’ve 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 that’s not the opinion of the country, and it’s certainly not the opinion of FIFA. This is a clear FIFA requirement, everyone has to be welcomed, everyone that comes to Qatar is welcome.

“Whatever religion, race, sexual orientation, belief – she or he has – everyone is welcome. This was our requirement and the Qatari state sticks to that requirement.

“Now you will tell me “Yeah, but there’s legislations that prohibit this and that and whatever, that you have to go to jail”, I don’t know. Yes – these legislations exist in many countries in the world. These legislations existed in Switzerland when Switzerland organised the World Cup. It was 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 criticise 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 asked the same question to my father, who is not here anymore, he would probably have a different answer that me, and my children will have again a different answer than me.

“So, if somebody thinks that by just hammering and criticising, and hammering and criticising, that we will achieve something, then I can tell you it will achieve exactly the opposite.

“The action will be the doors being more closed now that the doors have started to open.”

Infantino went on to highlight that women in his native Switzerland only gained the right to vote in 1959.

FIFA media boss says he himself is gay, and knows Infantino cares about gay people

At the conclusion of the media conference, that ran for almost an hour, FIFA’s Media boss Brian Swanson shared that he himself is gay, defending Infantino’s statements about LGBT rights.

Prior to joining FIFA ahead of the World Cup Swanson was a well-known face on British media reporting for Sky News. He had not previously spoken about his sexuality publicly.

“I have seen a lot of criticism of Gianni Infantino since I’ve joined FIFA, particularly from the LGBTI community.” Swanson said.

“I am sitting here in a privileged position, on a global stage, as a gay man, here in Qatar.

“We have received assurances that everyone is welcome and I believe everyone will be welcome in this World Cup.

“Just because Gianni Infantino is not gay does not mean he does not care. He does care.

“You see the public side. I see the private side. We have spoken on a number of occasions about this.

“I thought long and hard about whether to mention this in this news conference, this after all is a news conference for the FIFA president, but I do feel strongly about it.” Swanson told reporters.

Amnesty International Responds to Infantino’s comments

Amnesty International responded to Infantino’s comments. Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s Head of Economic and Social Justice said FIFA was brushing aside legitimate human rights concerns.

“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 there is one tiny glimmer of hope, it is that Infantino announced that FIFA would establish a legacy fund after the World Cup. This cannot be mere window dressing, however. 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.” Cockburn said.

OIP Staff

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