ITV News sports editor Steve Scott reports from Qatar
FIFA president Gianni Infantino has hit back at criticism of Qatar from Europe on the eve of the 2022 World Cup.
The game’s global governing body has been attacked for its decision to hold the finals in the Middle Eastern nation, where the treatment of migrant workers and the rights of LGBTQ+ people have been thrust into the spotlight.
In a speech ahead of the opening game of the tournament on Sunday, Infantino said: “We have told many, many lessons from some Europeans, from the western world.
“I think for what we Europeans have been doing the last 3,000 years we should be apologising for next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.”
“Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arabic. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel (like) a migrant worker," Infantino added.
“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.
“Europe is a heart of multicultural tolerance but even in Europe there are things that are not good. We should look at ourselves before criticising others," he continued.
In a letter earlier this month, Infantino and FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura urged the 32 World Cup countries to "focus on football" and not human rights issues ahead of the tournament.
FIFA's letter asked teams to “not allow football to be dragged into every ideological or political battle that exists.”
It added FIFA "tries to respect all opinions and beliefs, without handing out moral lessons."
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Infantino remained adamant that members of the LGBTQ+ community will be safe and welcome in Qatar, despite the country’s laws which criminalise same-sex relationships.
“Everyone is welcome. If you are a person who says the opposite, it is not the opinion of the country and certainly not of FIFA,” he said in his speech.
“Everyone who comes is welcome, whatever religion, race, sex orientation, belief she or he has. This was our requirement and the Qatari state sticks to that requirement.”
Asked whether Qatar could move the goalposts on these commitments, citing the late change on the sale of alcohol at stadiums, Infantino replied: “It’s never too late to change, maybe we will have to change on other topics but when it comes to the security of people, when you speak about LGBT people, everyone’s security is granted from highest level of country.
“That is the guarantee we gave, and we still give it.”
The sale of alcohol to fans at World Cup stadiums in Qatar was banned on Friday with just two days to go until the tournament kicks off, as Steve Scott reports
Meanwhile, the governing body launched a new captain’s armband on Saturday, despite a group of nations including England and Wales already intending to wear their own anti-discrimination version.
Captains of nine European nations, including England’s Harry Kane and Wales’ Gareth Bale, will wear the OneLove armbands in Qatar, which criminalises same-sex relationships.
A release from FIFA issued on Saturday morning confirmed it was partnering with the United Nations agencies to run social campaigns throughout the tournament, with a different campaign for each round.
The quarter-final theme will be “no discrimination," it said.
The Football Association and other members of the working group who are committed to wearing the OneLove banner were already due to meet on Saturday, and it is understood the group will seek clarity on this latest move from FIFA.
The FA has not received any response from FIFA to its request last month for permission to wear the OneLove armband, but its chief executive Mark Bullingham has since said England are prepared to be fined for wearing it.
England captain Kane will continue to wear the OneLove armband whatever the sanction, the FA said, and despite FIFA suddenly coming up with its own version.