FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s nearly hour-long speech on the eve of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has been described by human rights groups as “churlish” and an “insult” to migrant workers.
In an explosive monologue at the start of a press conference in Doha, Infantino – the boss of world football’s governing body – accused Western critics of Qatar’s human rights record of hypocrisy.
“What we Europeans have done for the past 3,000 years, we have to excuse for the next 3,000 years before we start teaching moral lessons,” he said. “Reforming and changing takes time. It took hundreds of years in our countries in Europe. It takes time everywhere, the only way to get results is by being involved…not shouting.”
The tournament, which starts on Sunday, is the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East, but it has been mired in controversy, with much of the run-up focusing on human rights, the deaths of migrant workers and the conditions many have endured. in Qatar, for LGBTQ and women’s rights.
Despite admitting things weren’t perfect, Infantino said some criticisms were “deeply unfair” and accused the West of applying double standards.
Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s head of economic and social justice, said in a statement: “By brushing aside legitimate human rights criticism, Gianni Infantino rejects the huge price migrant workers have paid to make his flagship tournament possible – as well as the responsibility of FIFA for the.
He added that “demands for equality, dignity and compensation cannot be treated as some sort of culture war – they are universal human rights that FIFA has pledged to respect in its own statutes.
“If there is any glimmer of hope, it is that Infantino has announced that FIFA will establish a legacy fund after the World Cup. However, this cannot be mere window dressing. If FIFA wants to salvage anything from this tournament, it must announce that it will invest a significant portion of the $6 billion the organization will earn from this tournament and ensure that this fund is used to directly compensate employees and their families.
Nicholas McGeehan, director of FairSquare, a non-profit human rights organization, said in a statement: “Infantino’s comments were as crass as they were clumsy and suggest that the FIFA president is getting his talking points directly from the Qatari authorities.
“Deviation and whatever has always been at the heart of Qatar’s PR efforts to defend its ranking failures, and now they have the FIFA president doing their job for them.”
And Mustafa Qadri, CEO of the international human rights organization Equidem, also 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 made the World Cup possible.
“He had a perfect opportunity to recognize that thousands of women and men from the poorest countries came to the richest only to face deception, exploitation and discrimination.
“Employees contact Equidem daily about unpaid wages, abuse and fear of speaking out for fear of employer retaliation. There is a solution here: Infantino should set up a comprehensive compensation fund and require Qatar to establish an independent center for migrant workers so that workers have a safe place to file complaints and get the support they need.”
The Guardian reported last year that 6,500 South Asian migrant workers have died in Qatar since the country won the 2010 World Cup, most of whom were involved in low-paid, hazardous labour, often performed in extreme heat.
The report did not link all 6,500 deaths to World Cup infrastructure projects and has not been independently verified by CNN.
Hassan Al Thawadi — the man in charge of Qatar’s preparations — told CNN’s Becky Anderson last year that The Guardian’s figure of 6,500 was a “sensational headline” that was misleading and that the report lacked context.
A government official told CNN there were three work-related deaths in stadiums and 37 non-work-related deaths. In a statement, the official said the Guardian’s figures were “inaccurate” and “extremely misleading”.
Eight new stadiums rose from the desert and the Gulf state expanded its airport, built new hotels, railways and highways. Everything is said to have been built by migrant workers, who, according to Amnesty International, make up 90% of the workforce in a population of nearly three million.
Since 2010, when Qatar won the World Cup, migrant workers have faced lagging or unpaid wages, forced labour, long hours in hot weather, employer harassment and the inability to quit their jobs due to the country’s sponsorship system, human rights organizations have detected .
Lise Klaveness, president of Norwegian football, told CNN’s Amanda Davies that FIFA had a chance to depoliticize the World Cup, but that Infantino “did the opposite” with his comments on Saturday.
In April, Klaveness gave a stinging speech calling the decision to allow Qatar to host the World Cup “unacceptable” and demanding that FIFA do more to defend its human rights principles.
She said Infantino’s pre-game monologue showed the pressure he was under.
“I think he has gone too far in reducing reasonable criticism to Western double standards,” she said. “Polarizing west versus east is a bit dangerous. I think it is very important that we give the feedback we have to collect West and East.”
She added: “It is reasonable criticism not of Qatar itself, but of FIFA and international football bodies.”