Doha, Qatar (CNN) — On the eve of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, FIFA president Gianni Infantino launched a speech against Western critics of the controversial tournament in an explosive hour-long monologue.
Infantino, the president of world soccer’s governing body, looked on sadly as he addressed hundreds of journalists in Doha, Qatar, on Saturday.
“We learned a lot of lessons from the Europeans, from the Western world,” he said, referring to criticism 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 giving moral lessons.”
Despite the opening game kicking off on November 20, Infantino barely talked about soccer, focusing his attention on what he called the “hypocrisy” of Western critics.
In a notable press conference, Infantino seemed exhausted. He has spent a lot of time defending FIFA’s 2010 decision to award the World Cup to Qatar. A controversial decision made when he was not president of the governing body.
This tournament will be a historic event, the first World Cup to be held in the Middle East, but it is also mired in controversy, with much of the preparation focused on human rights, from the death of migrant workers and the conditions many have endured in Qatar, even LGBTQ and women’s rights.
The Italian opened the press conference by speaking for an hour. The FIFA president told reporters that he knew what it felt like to be discriminated against, as he was bullied as a child for having red hair and freckles.
“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, in front of a stunned audience.
“I feel this, all this, because of what I have been seeing and what they have told me, since I do not read, otherwise I would be depressed I think.”
“What I have seen brings me back to my personal history. I am the son of migrant workers. My parents worked very, very hard in difficult situations.”
Infantino said progress had been made in Qatar on a variety of issues, but insisted that real change took time, adding that FIFA would not abandon the country after the tournament ended. He suggested that he thought some Western journalists would forget about the issues.
“We need to invest in education, to give them a better future, to give them hope. We all need to educate ourselves,” he said.
“Reform and change take time. It took hundreds of years in our countries in Europe. It takes time everywhere, the only way to get results is to participate […] not yelling.”
Infantino also addressed questions about the last-minute decision to ban the sale of alcohol in the eight stadiums that will host the tournament’s 64 matches. In a FIFA statement issued on Friday, the governing body said alcohol would be sold in fan areas and authorized venues.
The Muslim country is considered to be very conservative and strictly regulates the sale and consumption of alcohol.
In September, Qatar had said it would allow ticket holders to buy alcoholic beer in World Cup stadiums three hours before kick-off and one hour after the final whistle, but not during the match.
“First let me assure you that every decision that is made at this World Cup is a joint decision between Qatar and FIFA,” he said. “Every decision is discussed, debated and taken together.”
“There will be […] more than 200 places where you can buy alcohol in Qatar and more than 10 fan zones, where more than 100,000 people can drink alcohol simultaneously.
“Personally, I think if you can’t drink a beer for three hours a day, you’ll survive.”
“Especially because the same rules actually apply in France, Spain, Portugal or Scotland, where beer is now not allowed in stadiums,” he added.
“It seems to become a big thing because it’s a Muslim country, or I don’t know why.”
Infantino ended the press conference by insisting that everyone would be safe in Qatar, amid concerns from the LGBTQ community.
Homosexuality in Qatar is illegal and punishable by up to three years in prison, but the FIFA president promised this was a tournament for everyone.
“Let me also mention the LGBT situation. I have been talking about this issue with the top leadership of the country several times, not just once. They have confirmed, and I can confirm, that everyone is welcome,” Infantino said.
“This is a clear requirement from FIFA. Everyone should be welcome, everyone who comes to Qatar is welcome, regardless of their religion, race, sexual orientation or beliefs. Everyone is welcome. This was our requirement and the state of Qatar adheres to that requirement,” Infantino said.