Fifa chief Infantino tries to show empathy

Fifa president Gianni Infantino said he had been bullied for his accent and red hair and freckles while growing up. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

AL RAYYAN, Qatar – Fifa president Gianni Infantino raised eyebrows on Saturday when he attempted to show empathy with marginalised groups by telling reporters in Qatar: “I feel gay... I feel like a migrant worker.”

The Swiss opened the traditional pre-World Cup news conference with a lengthy monologue lambasting the critics of Qatar hosting the tournament because of the country’s human rights record.

“Today, I feel Qatari. Today, I feel Arab. Today, I feel African. Today, I feel gay. Today, I feel disabled. Today, I feel (like) a vagrant. Today, I feel (like) a migrant worker,” he later said.

“I feel all of this because what I see... brings me back to my personal story.”

He then detailed how he had grown up as the child of migrant workers in Switzerland and had been bullied for his accent and for having red hair and freckles.

“Of course, I am not Qatari, I am not an Arab, I am not African, I am not gay, I am not disabled,” he later added.

“But I feel like it, because I know what it means to be discriminated, to be bullied, as a foreigner in a foreign country.”

LGBT rights have been a touchstone issue for critics of the tournament because same-sex relations are illegal and punishable by up to three years of jail time in Qatar.

“Judging by social media, your comments that you feel gay has caused some surprise to many in the gay community,” one journalist later noted before asking Infantino a question.

“Because, they are saying, that if you really were gay you would not be able to say that because you would be admitting to effectively illegality.”

Fifa’s director of media relations Bryan Swanson, however, concluded the news conference with a personal message of support for his boss.

“I’ve seen a lot of criticism of Gianni Infantino since I’ve joined Fifa, in particular from the LGBTI community,” he said.

“I’m sitting here in a privileged position on a global stage as a gay man here in Qatar. He has received assurances that everyone will be welcome... Just because Gianni Infantino is not gay, does not mean he does not care. He does care.”

Infantino also blasted the “hypocrisy” of Western critics of Qatar’s human rights record, making a passionate defence of the World Cup in the Gulf state.

“This moral lesson-giving – one-sided – is just hypocrisy,” said the Swiss.

“I don’t want to give you any lessons of life, but what is going on here is profoundly, profoundly unjust.”

He added: “For what we Europeans have been doing for the last 3,000 years, we should apologise for the next 3,000 years before starting giving moral lessons to people.”

The Fifa chief also said that World Cup fans can survive for three hours a day without beer after sales were banned around stadiums.

“I think personally if for three hours a day you cannot drink a beer, you will survive,” he said.

“The same applies in France, Spain, Scotland.”

World Cup chiefs on Friday banned beer sales around stadiums in Qatar in a stunning U-turn, just 48 hours before Sunday’s kick-off.

Alcohol is largely prohibited in the Islamic nation but the organisers sparked fury from fans with their dramatic late decision.

Fifa said beer sales would only be focused on fan zones and licensed venues, “removing sales points of beer from Qatar’s Fifa World Cup 2022 stadium perimeters”.

It gave no reason for the surprise decision but media reports said there had been an intervention by Qatar’s ruling family.

Some fans were left disappointed by the beer ban. Ecuador fan Diana, 31, was saddened by the decision as she would have liked to have had a drink ahead of her country’s match with hosts Qatar which opens the World Cup.

“That’s quite sad because, you know, with this weather and all the excitement, of course we want a beer at least once,” she said.

But England goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale said one should respect the rules of the host nation.

“I think the fans will find some way of having a beer. I don’t think you need to do it so much at the game,” he said.

“We also have to respect the rules... so we’ll put pressure on ourselves to entertain from the football pitch.” REUTERS, AFP

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