FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s nearly hour-long speech on the eve of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar was described by human rights groups as “dishonest” and an “insult” to migrant workers.
Infantino – the head of soccer’s world governing body – accused Western critics of hypocrisy over Qatar’s human rights record in an explosive monologue at the start of a news conference in Doha.
“What we Europeans have been doing for the past 3,000 years, we must apologize for the next 3,000 years before we can teach moral lessons,” he said. “Reformation and change take time. Hundreds of years passed in our countries in Europe. Everywhere takes time, 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 it has been controversial, drawing more attention to human rights than the deaths and conditions of migrant workers. Many have endured for LGBTQ and women’s rights in Qatar.
Infantino, while acknowledging that things are not perfect, said some of the criticism was “deeply unfair” and accused West of double standards.
Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s head of economic and social justice, said in a statement: “Legitimate human rights criticisms aside, Gianni Infantino dismisses the huge price paid by migrant workers to make his flagship tournament possible – as well as FIFA’s responsibility. It.
He added that demands for equality, dignity and reparations cannot be treated as some kind of culture war – they are universal human rights that FIFA has committed to respecting in its own charters.
“If there is one small glimmer of hope, it is Infantino’s announcement that FIFA will set up a legacy fund after the World Cup. However, this cannot be mere window dressing. If FIFA is to salvage something from this tournament, it must announce that the organization will invest a significant portion of the $6 billion it earns from the tournament and make sure that this fund is used to directly compensate workers and their families.
Nicholas McGeehan, director of non-profit human rights organization FairSquare, said in a statement: “Infantino’s comments were as absurd as they were confusing and suggest the FIFA president is taking his talking points directly from the Qatari authorities.
“Defection and whatnot has always been at the core of Qatar’s PR efforts to defend its rank failures, and now they have the FIFA president doing their job for them.”
Mustafa Qadri, chief executive of international human rights organization Equidem, also issued a statement saying: “History will not judge this moment kindly. Infantino’s speech was an insult to the thousands of hardworking men and women who won the World Cup.
“He had a great opportunity to admit that thousands of women and men from the poorest countries came to the rich only to be deceived, exploited and discriminated against.
“Every day workers call Equidem fearing unpaid wages, abuse and reprisals from employers to speak out. Here’s a solution: Infantino should establish a comprehensive compensation fund and demand that Qatar establish an independent migrant worker center so workers have a safe space to complain and get the support they need.
The Guardian reported last year that 6,500 South Asian migrant workers had died in Qatar since Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010, most of them in low-paid, dangerous labor, often in extreme heat.
The report did not link all 6,500 deaths to World Cup infrastructure projects and has not been independently verified by CNN.
Hassan Al Tawadi – the man in charge of Qatar’s preparedness – told CNN’s Becky Anderson last year that the Guardian’s 6,500 number was a misleading “sensational headline” and the report lacked context.
A government official told CNN that there have been three work-related deaths and 37 non-work-related deaths at stadiums. In a statement, the official said the Guardian’s figures were “inaccurate” and “misleading”.
Eight new stadiums emerged from the desert, and the Gulf state expanded its airports and built new hotels, railways and highways. All will be built by migrant workers – who represent 90% of the workforce in a population of nearly three million – according to Amnesty International.
Since Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010, human rights organizations have found that migrant workers have faced delayed or unpaid wages, forced labour, long hours in hot weather, intimidation by employers and the inability to quit their jobs due to the country’s patronage system. have. .