The president of football’s international governing body FIFA says the West should not criticise Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup – adding that European nations should instead apologise for their own histories.
Gianni Infantino said critics were in no position “to give moral lessons to people” at a news conference to mark the opening of the tournament.
The small Middle Eastern nation has come under fire for its treatment of migrant workers and its attitude to LBGTQ+ rights.
But defending the host nation, Infantino said: “For what we Europeans have been doing around the world in the last 3,000 years we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.
“How many of these European or Western business companies who earn millions from Qatar, billions, how many of them have addressed migrant workers’ rights with the authorities?
“None of them, because if you change the legislation it means less profit. But we did, and FIFA generates much less than any of these companies from Qatar.”
He added: “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.
“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.
“What do you do then? You try to engage, make friends.
“Don’t start accusing, fighting, insulting, you start engaging.
“And this is what we should be doing.”
Despite Qatar’s last-minute U-turn on selling alcohol at the tournament’s eight stadiums and the implications this could have for other assurances made, Infantino told Sky News: “I feel 200% in control of this World Cup, absolutely.”
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He also moved to downplay the about-turn, pointing out similar bans were in force at stadiums in Scotland, France and Spain.
Infantino said: “I think it’s never too late to change. Maybe we will have to do other changes in between on other topics, I don’t know.
“But when it comes to the security of people – you spoke about LGBT – everyone’s security is guaranteed, from the highest level of the country. This is the guarantee that we gave and we stick to it.”
Qatar’s ‘kafala system’ is a set of labour laws which allow Qatari individuals or businesses to confiscate workers’ passports and stop them leaving the country.
Human rights groups say this has given developers free rein to exploit them – exposing them to gruelling working conditions for little pay and not allowing them to go home until projects materialise.
There have been reports of migrant worker deaths that range from a few dozen to several thousand in the 12 years of preparation for the tournament.
Qatar’s Sharia law means same-sex sexual activity has punishments ranging from seven years in jail to death by stoning.