Updated Nov 19, 2022, 12:09pm EST
FIFA president Gianni Infantino raised eyebrows at a news conference Saturday over a series of strange comments defending the policies of Qatar’s extremely conservative Muslim government, while insisting he remains “200% in control” of the tournament as concerns grow that Qatari officials—who allegedly bribed FIFA to secure hosting rights over the U.S.—have taken complete control of events.
Infantino claimed Qatar’s last-minute decision to ban beer sales outside of stadiums, which stunned Budweiser and other advertisers, was taken in conjunction with FIFA, calling the ban “intelligent” and something FIFA should have considered earlier.
He also hit back at critics who are shunning the tournament over human rights violations, such as the reported deaths of 6,500 migrant workers who built World Cup stadiums, saying he confronted authorities about the issue while positing that Europeans “should be apologizing for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.”
Infantino also again played down concerns that LGBTQ fans are risking their safety by attending the World Cup, even though homosexuality is illegal in Qatar, citing assurances from Qatari authorities that “everyone is welcome.”
The FIFA president slammed reports the Qatari government has hired fake fans to attend events due to little interest from Western countries, calling it “pure racism.”
“Don’t criticize Qatar. Let people enjoy this World Cup,” Infantino told reporters.
Infantino said “I am not African, I am not gay, I am not disabled,” but added “I feel like it” while claiming he knows what it means to be discriminated against because he faced bullying as the son of Italian immigrants with “red hair and freckles” while growing up in Switzerland. He later blurted out: “I feel like a woman too!”
The decision to award the small, oil-rich Persian Gulf state the World Cup has been slammed since it won hosting rights in 2010, beating out a competing bid from the United States. The vote has been plagued with allegations of bribery and many top FIFA officials were later arrested over rampant corruption within the organization, which is soccer’s top governing body. This World Cup will also be unprecedented in that it’s being held in the fall, instead of the traditional summer window, due to the extreme heat present in Qatar during summer months. The decision to move the World Cup timeframe is a massive disruption to European clubs, most of which play a season from August to May. A YouGov poll released last week found respondents in most major Western countries do not believe it is appropriate for Qatar to host major sporting events.