FIFA boss Gianni Infantino has criticized Qatar for its speech on human rights ahead of the World Cup
In an explosive monologue at the start of a news conference in Doha, Infantino – the boss of world football’s governing body – accused Western critics of the hypocrisy of Qatar’s human rights record.
“What we Europeans have been doing for the last 3,000 years, we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start teaching morals,” he said. “Reforms and changes take time. It took hundreds of years in our country of Europe. It takes time everywhere, the only way to get results is to engage … not to shout.”
The tournament, which starts on Sunday, is the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East, but has been mired in controversy, much of the build-up focused on human rights, from the deaths and conditions of migrant workers. Many endured in Qatar, for LGBTQ and women’s rights.
Infantino, while admitting things aren’t perfect, called some of the criticism “deeply unfair” and accused West of double standards.
Steve Cockburn, head of economic and social justice at Amnesty International, is one Statement: “Legitimate human rights criticism aside, Gianni Infantino is rejecting the huge price paid by migrant workers to make his flagship tournament possible – as well as FIFA’s responsibility for it.
He added that “demands for equality, dignity and compensation cannot be considered a form of culture war – they are universal human rights that FIFA is committed to respecting in its own legislation.
“If there is one small glimmer of hope, it is Infantino’s announcement that FIFA will establish a legacy fund after the World Cup. But 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 make from the tournament and ensure that this fund is used to directly compensate the staff and their families.”
Nicholas McGeehan, director of FairSquare, a non-profit human rights organisation, said in a statement: “Infantino’s comments were as clumsy as they were unrealistic and suggest the FIFA president is getting his word directly from the Qatari authorities.
“At the core of PR efforts to defend Qatar’s rank failure has always been deviance and frustration, and now the FIFA president is doing their job for them.”
And Mustafa Kadri, chief executive of the international human rights organization Equidem, said in a statement: “History will not judge this moment kindly. Infantino’s speech was an insult to the thousands of hardworking men and women who made the World Cup possible.
“She had a perfect opportunity to recognize that thousands of women and men from the poorest countries had come to the richest only to face fraud, exploitation and discrimination.
“Every day workers are contacting Equidem about unpaid wages, abuse and fear of speaking out from employers fearing reprisals. Here’s a solution: Infantino should establish a comprehensive compensation fund and demand that Qatar establish an independent migrant workers’ center so workers can have a safe place to raise grievances and get the help they need.
The Guardian reported last year that 6,500 South Asian migrant workers had died since Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010, most of them involved in low-wage, dangerous labour, often in extreme heat.
The report did not link all of the 6,500 deaths to World Cup infrastructure projects and has not been independently verified by CNN.
Hassan Al Thawadi – the man in charge of leading Qatar’s preparedness – told CNN’s Becky Anderson last year that the Guardian’s figure of 6,500 was a “sensational headline” that was misleading and the report lacked context.
A government official told CNN there were three work-related and 37 non-work-related deaths at the stadium. In a statement, the official said the Guardian’s figures were “false” and “wildly misleading”.
Eight new stadiums have risen from the desert, and the Gulf state has expanded its airports, built new hotels, railways and highways. All will be built by migrant workers, who – according to Amnesty International – make up 90% of the workforce in a population of around three million.
Since 2010, when Qatar was awarded the World Cup, migrant workers have faced delayed or unpaid wages, forced labor, long hours in hot weather, employer intimidation and the inability to quit their jobs due to the country’s sponsorship system, human rights organizations have found.
Norwegian soccer president Lis Klavenes told CNN’s Amanda Davis that FIFA had the opportunity to depoliticize the World Cup but Infantino “did the opposite” with his comments on Saturday.
In April, Clevenes gave a scathing speech that branded the decision to allow Qatar to host the World Cup “unacceptable” and demanded FIFA do more to uphold its human rights principles.
He said Infantino’s monologue before the first game showed he was under pressure.
“I think he goes too far in undermining reasonable criticism of Western double standards,” he said. “West versus East polarization, it’s a bit dangerous. I think it is very important to respond that we have to unite the West and the East.”
He added: “This is a reasonable criticism, not of Qatar itself, but of FIFA and international football bodies.”
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