OOn the eve of major sporting events, sports administrators often reach out to the media, as a sort of “state of the union” to address a league’s accomplishments and concerns. Ahead of the Super Bowl and NBA Finals, for example, NFL and NBA commissioners speak to the press, answer questions from reporters, and offer direct answers or spin as they see fit. It is an almost ceremonial exercise.
The goal: to appease the media before everyone goes to the big games.
On Saturday in Doha, FIFA President Gianni Infantino proposed a new twist on this ritual. Instead of inaugurating the Qatar World Cup, which begins on Sunday, Infantino gave an extraordinary speech, full of grievances about the media’s scrutiny of the host country’s human rights record, the whataboutism and what can best be described as a clumsy attempt to compare his personal story to disenfranchised populations around the world. (At worst, his remarks were highly offensive).
Infantino mistook examination for provocation. CNN called the speech an “explosive tirade”. On the contrary, the immediate negative response to Infantino’s press conference highlighted the issues surrounding this 2022 World Cup and undermined his own plea for the focus to be on football, to stick to sport. .
Infantino scored a spectacular own goal for his own World Cup.
Towards the start of his sprawling hour-long speech, Infantino said, “Today I feel Qatari. Today, I feel Arab. Today, I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today, I feel handicapped. Today, I feel (like) a migrant worker.
“Of course, I’m not Qatari, I’m not Arab, I’m not African, I’m not gay, I’m not disabled. But I feel like it, because I know what it means to be discriminated against, to be bullied, as a foreigner in a foreign country. As a child I was bullied – because I had red hair and freckles, plus I was Italian, so imagine.
Infantino grew up in Switzerland. He says he feels like a migrant worker. Infantino earned $3.2 million in 2019.
“What are you doing then?” said Infantin. “You try to engage, to make friends. Don’t start accusing, fighting, insulting, you start engaging. And that’s what we should be doing.
(READ MORE: Meet the 22-year-old star who could make Team USA a World Cup contender)
Invoking the familiar deviation to which we are all too accustomed in political discourse, Infantino suggested that Western countries were in no position to criticize Qatar, given the human rights shortcomings in Europe and somewhere else.
“We gave many, many lessons from some Europeans, from the western world,” Infantino said. “I think for what we Europeans have done for the past 3,000 years, we should apologize for the next 3,000 years before we start giving people moral lessons.”
Admittedly, every nation is far from perfect. But Infantino seemed to forget that he heads an organization embroiled in a corruption scandal when Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010. (Although Infantino was not the head of FIFA at the time). era). That thousands of migrant workers have died in Qatar over the past decade, many from poor working conditions made more perilous by excessive heat. That FIFA made the conscious decision to host a World Cup in Qatar. Questions are more than fair game. For Infantino to suggest that criticism of Qatar is “just hypocrisy” couldn’t be more hypocritical.
Infantino also turned to the disabled population to make the case for media hypocrisy. “I was at an event a few days ago when we explained what we were doing at this Disabled World Cup,” Infantino said. He noted that there were about 400 reporters at his press conference on Saturday, but only four at this event. ‘The [are] one billion people with disabilities worldwide,” he said. “One billion people with disabilities. Nobody cares.”
Infantino invoked self-pity for FIFA, an organization that has won none. “It’s not easy, every day and every day to read all these reviews,” he said. He also gave press conferences on how they should do their jobs in the future. “If you need to criticize someone, don’t criticize the players,” Infantino said. “Don’t put pressure on the players, don’t put pressure on the coaches. Let them focus on making their fans happy.
His words were quickly condemned. Nicholas McGeehan, director of FairSquare, a non-profit human rights organization, called Infantino’s speech “rude”. “By dismissing legitimate human rights criticism, Gianni Infantino dismisses the enormous price paid by migrant workers to make his flagship tournament possible – as well as FIFA’s responsibility in this regard,” said Steve Cockburn, head of the economic and social justice at Amnesty International. A declaration. “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.”
Infantino announced that FIFA will create a legacy fund to follow this World Cup. “It can’t just be a facade though,” Cockburn said. “If FIFA wants to salvage anything from this tournament, it must announce that it will invest a significant portion of the $6 billion the organization will make from this tournament and ensure that this fund is used to directly compensate the workers and their families.
Hopefully Infantino’s actions after the World Cup rank better than his performance before.
(READ MORE: Your Complete Guide to the USA National Team at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar)
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