Doha, Qatar – FIFA President Gianni Infantino Opening quotes from the first World Cup press conference Made headlines, all right. Infantino said, “Today I have very strong feelings, 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 discrimination means, bullying.”
He then cited his own story about growing up the son of parents who had moved to Switzerland from the impoverished south of Italy, along with the fact that as a child he had to suffer because of his red hair and freckles. was bullied for.
As far as PR’s own goals go, it’s going to be hard to beat. Infantino’s words may have been meant as a sign of solidarity and inclusion, but they came across as lewd, lewd and offensive. An experience in the form of discrimination against a minority (Italian immigrants in post-war Switzerland and – I think – children with red hair and freckles) is not the same as the discrimination and experience of other minorities. Especially when you are white, male, European, non-disabled and heterosexual.
Needless to say, there is a vast difference between the experience of Nepalese and Bangladeshi migrant workers in Qatar and other Gulf countries (as well as elsewhere) and the experience of an Italian growing up in Brig, Switzerland, less than an hour away is on the drive. Italian border. a border that you do not need an “exit visa” to cross, unlike migrant workers who, up to seven years agoOften permission is needed if they want to leave their jobs in Qatar and return home.
In some ways, we’ve been here before. Infantino held a press conference at the 2018 World Cup in Russia wearing one of the polo shirts given to the tournament’s volunteers as a sign of recognition and solidarity for all the unpaid workers who give their time for the good of football . As a scene and as a concept, it also backfired because most understand that a man in a bib standing outside a stadium directing traffic is not the same as a man in a suit. Happens who is paid handsomely to deliver the World Cup.
In Qatar, the press conference took an unusual turn at the end when Brian Swanson, FIFA’s director of media relations, spoke out to say: “I’m sitting here in Qatar as a gay man. We’ve got assurances that everyone’s will be welcomed and I’m sure everyone will be. Just because [Infantino] Just because he’s not gay doesn’t mean he doesn’t care. He does. You see the public side and I see the private side.”
This is pretty unprecedented for a communications person, whose job at a press conference is usually to decide who to ask questions, to make such a personal announcement. But it was an extraordinary press conference. And while the world will focus on Infantino’s malaprops, there is another side to it. Whatever pretense that politics, religion and morality are not part of the conversation around the game is gone. This perhaps suits Infantino and those who want FIFA to be seen as some kind of positive agent for change.
heck, a few days ago at the G-20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, Infantino gave a Ceasefire In the Russia-Ukraine conflict during the World Cup. He talked about how he used political influence To arrange direct flights from Israel to Doha where Palestinians and Israelis would be seated side by side. He reminded everyone that, under his leadership, FIFA incorporated all kinds of human rights requirements for countries wishing to bid for the World Cup. (It is not clear whether the current version of Qatar will meet them, but it is clear that the 2010 version will not).
He said that not only did Qatar get the World Cup even before it became the reason Significant reforms in labor practices (minimum wages, better working conditions and safety conditions and its abolition Kafala system, with its de facto “exit visa”), but he would go further, citing his efforts to establish a permanent office of the United Nations’ International Labor Organization (to oversee the treatment of workers) in Doha. A World Cup legacy fund that could increase compensation for workers injured on the job.
James Ole recalled a remarkable speech by FIFA President Gianni Infantino, in which he called out the “hypocrisy” of nations criticizing Qatar.
If Stanley Rous, one of his predecessors as FIFA president and the man who refused to support a boycott of apartheid-era South Africa 60 years ago because “politics and sport should not mix,” he Might have heard it amazed at the overreach. Yet it is where we are and it is probably a better place than when we buried our heads in the sand and pretended that sport existed in some kind of entertainment vacuum, removed from the real world. .
For example, most people around the world can agree that migrant workers should be treated in a civilized manner. It is an accepted, universal value. LGBTQIA+ Rights? In many countries yes, in others, like Qatar, not so much, possibly because there are religious and cultural roots to the discrimination, which was once common around the world.
And when you get into it, you get uncomfortably close to the third rail of religion and morality, which is generally not a good place for the president of a global organization to be.
In fact, when Infantino went there during his speech, he fell into another pit when he talked about how issues like LGBTQIA+ rights and even universal suffrage (even universal suffrage) How long has it taken Western countries to “make progress” (Women in Appenzell, Switzerland gained the right to vote only in 1990).
All of the above is true, but the problem is that when you define it as progress you are explicitly saying that people who don’t share those views are “backward” and “backward”. The whole “it took us a long time, they’ll catch up to us eventually” argument suits progressives, but risks upsetting those who, for whatever reason, might see it – wrongly, in my opinion – as decay.
In fact, in the same speech he said that Europe was in no position to give “moral lessons” and should instead apologize for its past actions “for the next 3,000 years” (possibly a reference to colonialism and the exploitation of many peoples). ) of the rest of the world). But aren’t you convinced that members of the LGBTQIA+ community shouldn’t be discriminated against with a fundamentally “moral lesson” about how you should treat other human beings?
In 2014, E60 went to Qatar to report on the plight of migrant workers there. This spring, they went back to see what had changed and what hadn’t changed over the past eight years.
He then answered a question Iranwho faces England on Monday, and the government’s repression of women and violent crackdowns on dissidents. This hit close to home because Infantino pushed a few years ago for Iran to allow women into stadiums to watch men’s football, overturning a long-standing ban.
Here, he sounds like Stanley Roush, saying it was two teams playing football, not two regimes. and that it would be unfair to act against Iran, unless “you think 80 million Iranians are all bad.” If there was a Russian in the room the person could say: “So does that mean you think 145 million Russians are all bad? Because you banned Russia from World Cup qualifying after my government started a war with Ukraine.” was banned.”
You can take a look at Infantino’s reasoning. Russia was subject to a UN resolution condemning the invasion, Iran’s abuses have not been addressed in the same way and, although appalling, remain a domestic matter, not directly affecting other countries. Having fans in Iran — many from the Iranian diaspora and intensely opposed to the regime — can shed light on what’s really going on there. And, of course, there’s real politics: Iran is here and they’ll start in 48 hours.
Infantino could have said any of these things. He did not. He went with the “not all Iranians” angle, which felt tone deaf in light of Russia’s absence.
Infantino’s words say otherwise. He may be a politician in the sense that he holds an elected position and is apparently very good at garnering the support of the majority of the world’s 211 FIFA member nations. Indeed, he will run for re-election this spring unopposed as FIFA president.
Where he certainly isn’t a politician, he is communicating with the media – and perhaps, as fans – in a way that they understand and can relate to. That’s how you end Saturday’s extraordinary press conference. A longtime FIFA watcher told me: “Gasoline usually doesn’t put out fires.” It’s also true that – whether FIFA is working for the majority of its members or the bar was set so low by corrupt governance before Infantino took power in 2016 – Infantino might as well wear a fire-proof suit.