FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s nearly hour-long speech on the eve of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar has been branded ‘rude’ and an ‘insult’ to migrant workers by advocacy groups human rights.
In an explosive monologue at the start of a press conference in Doha, Infantino – the boss of world football’s governing body – accused Western critics of Qatar’s human rights record of hypocrisy.
“What we Europeans have been doing for 3,000 years, we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start giving moral lessons,” he said. “Reform and change take time. It took hundreds of years in our European countries. It takes time everywhere, the only way to get results is to commit…not to shout.
The tournament, which begins on Sunday, is the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East, but it has been mired in controversy, with much of the build-up focusing on human rights, death from migrant workers and the conditions many have endured in Qatar, to LGBTQ and women’s rights.
Infantino, while admitting things weren’t perfect, said some criticism was “deeply unfair” and accused the West of double standards.
Steve Cockburn, Head of Economic and Social Justice at Amnesty International, said in a statement: “By brushing aside legitimate human rights criticism, Gianni Infantino rejects the huge price paid by migrant workers to make his flagship tournament possible – as well as FIFA’s responsibility for this.
He added that “demands for equality, dignity and compensation cannot be treated as some sort of culture war – these are universal human rights that FIFA has pledged to uphold in its own statutes.
“If there is a small ray of hope, it is that Infantino has announced that FIFA will set up a legacy fund after the World Cup. This cannot, however, be a mere window dressing. If FIFA wants salvage anything from this tournament, it must announce that it will invest a significant portion of the $6 billion the organization will raise from this tournament and ensure that this fund is used to directly compensate workers and their families.
Nicholas McGeehan, director of FairSquare, a non-profit human rights organization, said in a statement: “Infantino’s comments were as crude as they were awkward and suggest the FIFA President is getting his points across. directly from the Qatari authorities.
“Deviation and chatter have always been at the heart of Qatar’s PR efforts to defend their rank failures, and now they have the FIFA president doing their job for them.”
And Mustafa Qadri, chief executive of international human rights organization Equidem, also said in a statement: “History will not judge this moment kindly. Infantino’s speech was an insult to the thousands of hard-working women and men who made the World Cup possible.
“He had a perfect opportunity to recognize that thousands of women and men from the poorest countries have come to the richest countries to face deception, exploitation and discrimination.
“Every day, workers contact Equidem about unpaid wages, abuse and are terrified to speak out for fear of retaliation from employers. There is a solution here: Infantino should create a comprehensive compensation fund and ask Qatar to create an independent center for migrant workers so workers have a safe space to file complaints and get the support they need.
The Guardian reported last year that 6,500 South Asian migrant workers have died in Qatar since the country won the World Cup in 2010, most of whom were involved in low-paid and dangerous work, often carried out in extreme heat conditions.
The report did not link the 6,500 deaths to World Cup infrastructure projects and has not been independently verified by CNN.
Hassan Al Thawadi – the man charged with leading Qatar’s preparations – told CNN’s Becky Anderson last year that the Guardian figure of 6,500 was a misleading “sensational headline” and that the report lacked context.
A government official told CNN there have been three work-related deaths at stadiums and 37 non-work-related deaths. In a statement, the official said the Guardian figures were “inaccurate” and “grossly misleading”.
Eight new stadiums have risen from the desert, and the Gulf state has expanded its airport, built new hotels, railroads and highways. All are believed to have been built by migrant workers, who – according to Amnesty International – make up 90% of the workforce in a population of nearly three million.
Since 2010, when Qatar won the World Cup, migrant workers have faced delayed or unpaid wages, forced labor, long hours in hot weather, intimidation from employers and the inability quitting their jobs because of the country’s sponsorship system, human rights organizations have found. .
Lise Klaveness, president of Norwegian football, told CNN’s Amanda Davies that FIFA had an opportunity to depoliticize the World Cup but Infantino “did the opposite” with his comments on Saturday.
In April, Klaveness delivered a scathing speech that called the decision to allow Qatar to host the World Cup “unacceptable” and demanded that FIFA do more to uphold its human rights principles.
She said Infantino’s monologue before the first game demonstrated the pressure he was under.
“I think he went too far in reducing reasonable criticism to Western double standards,” she said. “To polarize the West against the East is a bit dangerous. I think it is very important that we give this feedback that we need to gather from the west and from the east.
She added: “It’s a reasonable criticism, not of Qatar itself, but of FIFA and international football bodies.”