FIFA president Gianni Infantino has left the sporting world gobsmacked after using his opening press conference at the World Cup to offer a perplexing defence of host nation Qatar.
Infantino's speech, in which he attempted to express his support and solidarity with migrant workers and the LGBTI+ community as well as justify Qatar's hosting of the tournament, was roundly criticised worldwide.
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Labelling critics of Qatar 'hypocrites', Infantino pointed to the last 3000 years of European history as proof the broader Western world was out of place in criticising the Middle Eastern nation for their socially conservative policies.
Homosexuality is forbidden in Qatar, which has sparked protests from a number of teams including the Socceroos, while the nation has also been heavily criticised for its extensive use and alleged mistreatment of thousands of migrant workers recruited to build the eight stadiums required for the tournament.
Qatar also backflipped on a commitment to allow beer to be sold inside said stadiums just days before the World Cup is set to begin.
The sale and consumption of alcohol in Qatar is strictly controlled, and is typically only available at hotel bars and restaurants at a luxury price.
"I am European," Infantino said. "For what we have been doing for 3000 years around the world, we should be apologising for the next 3000 years before giving moral lessons.
"I have difficulties understanding the criticism ... we should all educate ourselves. Many things are not perfect but reform and change takes time.
"This one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy. I wonder why no-one recognises the progress made here since 2016.
"It is not easy to take the critics of a decision that was made 12 years ago. Qatar is ready. It will be the best World Cup ever."
"Today, I feel Qatari. Today, I feel Arab. Today, I feel African. Today, I feel gay. Today, I feel disabled. Today, I feel a migrant worker."
FIFA president Gianni Infantino gives an extraordinary press conference ahead of the opening of the Qatar World Cup. pic.twitter.com/VYmx6kavOI
— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) November 19, 2022
Infantino continued though, also attempting to express his support for sections of the community said to be marginalised by Qatari society.
“Today I feel Qatari, today I feel Arab, today I feel African, today I feel gay, today I feel disabled, today I feel a migrant worker,” he said.
“I’m not Qatari, African, gay, disabled and I’m not really a migrant worker but I know what it means to be discriminated and bullied, as a foreign in a foreign country, as a child at school I was bullied because I had red hair and freckles. I was bullied for that.
“There are 1 billion disabled people in the world … and nobody cares.”
FIFA president Gianni Infantino's baffling speech stuns football world
To say the wider sporting world was bemused by Infantino's speech would be an understatement, with many social media users condemning his speech.
The Telegraph chief football correspondent, Jason Burt, penned that the FIFA president's speech read like it had been prepared by the host nation, and that it was 'delusional'.
“If that did not leave his and Fifa’s credibility shot for anyone with a conscience, then Infantino made sure it was with a speech that sounded like it was scripted by the Qatari authorities,” he wrote.
“If that wasn’t enough, it was delivered with a level of staggering delusion and also an irritation that betrayed his inflated arrogance.”
This is gonna go down as one of the most remarkably deluded speeches of all time from Infantino.
On the flip side, thank god his having freckles at school has allowed to understand what minority groups and migrant workers have been through.
— Alex Kay-Jelski (@AlexKayJelski) November 19, 2022
Infantino's 'opening remarks' have now gone on for 22 minutes of a 40-45 conference. He is yet to take a single question. His comments are historically rambling & deluded. It is beyond belief that this man is in charge of world football -- & has just been reelected unopposed.
— Dan Kilpatrick (@Dan_KP) November 19, 2022
Infantino doing an excellent job of reminding us that the most culpable for this rotten mess of a World Cup is FIFA itself.
— Andy West (@andywest01) November 19, 2022
Infantino's comments represent another blow to the credibility of the World Cup, which has been tainted ever since Qatar was selected to host the 2022 tournament 12 years ago.
Set to be re-elected to the position unopposed following the World Cup, Infantino's judgement was brought into question by Sky Sports reporter Melissa Reddy.
She also took aim at Infantino, saying there was no possible way he could understand how the various groups he mentioned could feel.
Repulsive. Dangerous. Damaging. Yet this is a man being re-elected as head of FIFA unopposed.
— Melissa Reddy (@MelissaReddy_) November 19, 2022
“This is extraordinary and unlike anything I’ve ever heard before,” she said.
“You do not know what it feels like to be gay, Infantino, you do not know what it feels like to be disabled, you do not know what it feels like to be African and you cannot conflate being discriminated against because of red hair and freckles to any of the groups you’ve referenced have experienced. You cannot negate their experience by just saying you ‘feel’ what they feel.
“It is an absolutely astounding address from the FIFA president and it’s probably even more astounding that he is being re-elected unopposed after being able to say stuff like this.”
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