FIFA president Gianni Infantino on Saturday criticized the “hypocrisy” of Western critics of Qatar’s human rights record, passionately defending the World Cup in the Gulf state on the eve of kick-off.
Preparations for the tournament have been dominated by concerns about Qatar’s treatment of immigrant workers, women and the LGBTQ community, much to the visible annoyance of organizers.
Qatari officials say their country has been subjected to “racism” and “double standards” and point to reforms in working conditions and safety that have been hailed as groundbreaking in the region.
Soccer itself took a back seat again on Saturday, with a firm focus on off-field politics just 24 hours before hosts Qatar opened the tournament against Ecuador.
Infantino, speaking at his opening press conference for the tournament in Doha, had harsh words for Qatar’s critics.
“This one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy,” the Swiss said.
“I don’t want to give you any life lessons, but what is happening here is deeply, deeply unfair.”
He added: “For what we Europeans have been doing for the last 3,000 years, we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start giving people moral lessons.”
Infantino also expressed his support for marginalized communities.
“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 migrant worker,” he said.
Another topic that has dominated the preparation for the tournament is the sale of beer in the Islamic State, which severely restricts alcohol consumption.
On Friday, organizers made a dramatic U-turn, banning the sale of beer in stadiums just 48 hours before kick-off.
World governing body FIFA did not give reasons for the surprise decision, but media reports said there was an intervention by Qatar’s ruling family.
Dozens of Budweiser beer tents had already been set up on the grounds before the first game.
Infantino made light of the ruling about the last-minute change on Saturday.
“Personally, I think if for three hours a day you can’t drink a beer, you will survive,” he said. “The same applies in France, Spain, Scotland.”
– Ronaldo arrives –
Cristiano Ronaldo flew to Qatar on Friday night, desperate to focus on football after an explosive tirade against his club, Manchester United.
The Portuguese striker, who has dominated world soccer for the past 15 years alongside Argentina’s Lionel Messi, will play his fifth and likely last World Cup.
The 37-year-old, who has a world record 117 international goals, is bidding to become the first man to score in five World Cups.
Ronaldo appears to be heading for the starting gate at Old Trafford, but earlier this week he promised “total and utter focus on national team work” in a social media post.
Almost all of soccer’s heavyweight teams have already arrived in Qatar, with the notable exception of five-time winners Brazil, who will land late on Saturday.
Brazil, boasting a star-studded forward line led by Neymar, are favorites to win the tournament for the first time since 2002, with Messi’s Argentina and France also heavy favourites.
Croatia, surprise finalist of the World Cup in Russia 2018, warned that it has what it takes to deepen the tournament again.
Led by the inspiring captain Luka Modric, Croatia reached the final four years ago in Russia before losing 4-2 to France.
“I think we have a very good chance to repeat something similar to what we did in Russia,” striker Marko Livaja said.