Infantino: I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel gay
FIFA president Gianni Infantino launched an impassioned defence of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, insisting he feels solidarity with many of the groups seemingly marginalised by taking the event to the Middle East.
He 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 disabled. Today, I feel a migrant worker.
"I feel all this because what I have been seeing and what I have been told, since I don’t read, otherwise I will be depressed.
"What I see brings me back to my personal story. I am a son of migrant workers, my parents were working hard in very difficult conditions, not in Qatar but in Switzerland, I remember it very well. I know the rights migrants in Switzerland had.
"I remember as a child how migrant workers were treated when they wanted to enter a country and look for work.
"I remember what happened with their passports, their medical checks, with their accommodation and when I came to Doha for the first time after I was elected FIFA president I went to see some of the accommodation and I was brought back to my childhood.
"I said to the people in Qatar, this is not right, and the same way that Switzerland has become an example of tolerance, inclusion and rights, Qatar has made progress as well.
"Of course, I am not Qatari, I am not Arab, I am not African, I am not gay, I am not disabled, I am not a migrant worker but I feel like them because I know what it feels to be discriminated against by a bully.
"As a foreigner in a foreign county, as a child at school, I was bullied at school because I had red hair and freckles. I was Italian, and didn’t speak good German.
"What do you do? You lock yourself down, go to your room and cry. And then you try to make some friends, to engage, make friends. And then you try to make these friends engage with others. You don’t start fighting, you start engaging and this is what we should be doing.
"I am proud to have this FIFA sign on my jacket. It's not easy to read all the criticism from a decision taken 12 years ago. Now we have to make the best out of it.
"Qatar is ready and it will be the best World Cup ever. As soon as the ball rolls, people will focus on that."
Infantino's "I feel gay" comment immediately prompted accusations of hypocrisy on social media given he heads an organisation that is staging the World Cup in a country with such an oppressive outlook on homosexuality.
He added: "If we were to exclude all these countries, you are playing football with just you and me.
"I think football has to bring people together and I think we have to welcome everybody. Gay people are welcome in Qatar – we need to engage, don’t provoke.
"How many gay people were prosecuted in Europe? It was a process, we went through a process. We seem to forget.
"We shouldn’t take for granted that a country that has not had the same chance for development as we had in Europe.
"We have to have our beliefs, engage and explain. I think provocation is the wrong way. I may be right, may be wrong. I try to engage."