FIFA boss gives the world yet another reason to ignore football in Qatar

OIn the run-up to major sporting events, athletic administrators often turn to the media as something of a “state of the union” affair to address the league’s accomplishments and concerns. Before the Super Bowl and the NBA Finals, for example, the NFL and NBA commissioners talk to the press, answer some questions from reporters and offer direct answers or spin as they see fit. It’s almost a ceremonial exercise.

The goal: tone down the media before everyone moves on to the big games.

On Saturday in Doha, FIFA president Gianni Infantino proposed a new twist to that ritual. Instead of entering in World Cup in Qatar, which begins on Sunday, Infantino delivered an extraordinary speech filled with complaints about media scrutiny of the host country’s human rights record, what with what can best be described as an awkward attempt to compare his personal history with the deprived from the rights of the population all over the world. (At worst, his remarks were highly offensive).

Infantino badly mixed review with provocation. CNN identified the speech as an “explosive tirade.” If anything, the immediate negative response to Infantino’s press conference shed further light on the issues surrounding this 2022 World Cup and undermined his own plea to keep the focus on football, stick to the sport.

Infantino scored a spectacular own goal for his own World Cup.

At the start of his extensive hour-long address, Infantino said: “Today I feel Qatari. I feel Arab today. I feel African today. I feel gay today. I feel disabled today. Today I feel (like) a migrant worker.

“Of course I’m not Qatari, I’m not Arab, I’m not African, I’m not gay, I’m not disabled. But I wish because I know what it means to be discriminated against, to be harassed as a foreigner in a foreign country. I was bullied as a child – because I had red hair and freckles and I was Italian, so imagine that.’

Infantino grew up in Switzerland. He said he felt like a guest worker. Infantino did a 3.2 million dollars in 2019

“What are you doing then?” Infantino said. “You try to engage, make friends. Don’t start blaming, arguing, insulting, start engaging. And that is what we must do.

(READ MORE: Meet the 22-year-old star who could make Team USA a World Cup contender)

Invoking the familiar digression we are all too used to in political discourse, Infantino suggested that Western countries are in no position to criticize Qatar given its human rights record in Europe and elsewhere.

“We learned many, many lessons from some Europeans, from the Western world,” Infantino said. “I think that for what we Europeans have been doing for the last 3,000 years, we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start giving moral lessons to people.”

It is true that every nation is far from perfect. But Infantino seems to have forgotten that he leads an organization that is involved in a bribery scandal when he awarded the World Cup to Qatar in 2010 (although Infantino was not head of FIFA at the time). That thousands of migrant workers have died in Qatar over the past decade, many due to poor working conditions made more dangerous from excessive heat. That FIFA made a conscious decision to hold the World Cup in Qatar. Questions are more than fair game. For Infantino to suggest that criticism of Qatar is “just hypocrisy” couldn’t be more hypocritical.

Infantino also reached out to people with disabilities to point out media hypocrisy. “I was at an event a few days ago when we explained what we’re going to do at this Paralympics,” Infantino said. He noted that there were about 400 journalists at his press conference on Saturday, but only four at this event. ‘There [are] one billion people with disabilities in the world,” he said. “One billion people with disabilities. Nobody cares.”

Infantino evoked a bit of self-pity for FIFA, an organization that has won nothing. “It’s not easy, day in and day out, to read all these critics,” he said. He also lectured the press on how they should do their jobs going forward. “If you have to criticize somebody, don’t criticize the players,” Infantino said. “Don’t put pressure on the players, don’t put pressure on the coaches. Let them focus on making their fans happy.”

His words were met with swift condemnation. Nicholas McGeehan, director of FairSquare, a human rights nonprofit, called Infantino’s speech “crude.” “By rejecting legitimate human rights criticism, Gianni Infantino rejects the huge price paid by migrant workers to make his flagship tournament possible – and FIFA’s responsibility for it,” said Steve Cockburn, head of economic and social justice. of Amnesty International, in a statement. “Demands for equality, dignity and reparation cannot be treated as some kind of culture war – they are universal human rights that FIFA has committed to upholding in its own statute.”

Infantino announced that FIFA will set up a legacy fund to follow this World Cup. “It can’t just be window dressing, though,” Cockburn said. “If FIFA wants to salvage anything from this tournament, it should announce that it will invest a significant portion of the $6 billion that the organization will earn from this tournament and make sure that this fund is used to directly compensate workers and their families.”

Let’s hope Infantino’s actions after the World Cup rank better than his performance before it.

(READ MORE: Your Complete Guide to the USA National Team at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar)

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Write to Sean Gregory c [email protected].

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