Doha, Qatar – FIFA President Gianni Infantino accused Western countries of “hypocrisy” by saying they were unable to give “moral lessons” to other countries hours before the World Cup kicks off in Qatar.
Speaking at a fiery press conference in the Qatari capital ahead of the tournament, the Swiss Italian said Europe must address its past crimes before pointing the finger at Qatar.
“I am European. For what we Europeans have done around the world for the past 3,000 years, we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start teaching people moral lessons,” Infantino told hundreds of reporters on Saturday.
Qatar, which won the right to host the global football tournament in 2010, has been criticized for its treatment of migrant workers and human rights registration.
Infantino, son of migrant workers from Italy, said the country has “made progress” in improving the rights of migrant workers in the Middle East.
“I came here six years ago and immediately raised the issue of migrant workers, in my very first meeting,” Infantino said, pausing and looking directly at the assembled journalists.
“How many of these European or Western companies, which made millions and millions from Qatar and other countries in the region – billions a year – how many of them have raised the rights of migrant workers with the authorities?
“I have the answer for you. None of them,” said the FIFA chief, adding that “the one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy.”
Homosexuality is illegal in the country, but Qatar has said all fans are welcome to attend the showpiece.
“I have spoken to the senior leadership of the country on this subject. Several times, not just once. They have confirmed, I can confirm that everyone is welcome,” said the FIFA president.
In remarks to reporters at the end of the press conference, FIFA media chief Bryan Swanson, who is gay, insisted that everyone is welcome in Qatar.
“Since I’ve been at FIFA I’ve seen a lot of criticism of Gianni Infantino, especially from the LGBTQ communitySwanson said.
“I am in a privileged position on a world stage as a gay man here in Qatar. We have been given assurances that everyone is welcome and I believe that everyone will be welcome at this World Cup,” he added.
Critics also questioned Qatar, the first country in the Arab world to host the contest a ban on the sale of alcohol in stadiums during the tournament.
“Every decision made in this World Cup is a joint decision between Qatar and FIFA. Every decision is jointly discussed, debated and taken. There will be, I don’t know how many, fan zones – eight, 10 major fan zones, over 200 places where you can buy alcohol,” Infantino said.
He also pointed out that this was not unusual as drinking in football stadiums is banned in major European countries such as France, Spain, Portugal and Scotland.
Despite some critics calling on companies to boycott the World Cup, Infantino hailed the “commercial success” of this year’s tournament.
“We sold the media rights for about $200 million more than the last World Cup,” he said. “We sold the sponsorship rights for about $200 million more than the last World Cup.
“And in terms of ticketing and catering rights, we are at almost 200 to 300 million more than the previous World Cup.”
Qatar kicks off the 32-team tournament against Ecuador on Sunday. Infantino said the Gulf country has done an impressive job preparing for the games.
“Doha is ready. Qatar is ready. It will of course be the best World Cup ever,” he said.