Qatar 2022

Qatar 2022 (965)

A leading voice at FIFA has dismissed criticism of Gianni Infantino and says personal experience has convinced him the organisation's president cares deeply about the LGBTQ+ community.

The World Cup gets under way in Qatar on Sunday and Infantino has come under fire for his staunch defence of a country that classes homosexuality as a crime.

At the end of an extraordinary press conference in Doha on Saturday, during which Infantino addressed this issue as well as other criticisms of Qatar by stating "I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel [like] a migrant worker", he was backed by FIFA's director of media relations, Bryan Swanson. 

Swanson, a well-known figure in British media following a long stint at Sky Sports, said: "I've seen a lot of criticism of Gianni Infantino since I've joined FIFA, in part from the LGBTQ+ community.

"I am sitting here in a privileged position, on a global stage, as a gay man here in Qatar.

"We have received assurances that everyone is welcome and I believe that everybody will be welcomed in this World Cup.

"Just because Gianni Infantino is not gay does not mean he does not care, he does care.

"You see the public side, I see the private side and we have spoken on a number of occasions about this.

"I thought long and hard about whether to mention this in this news conference but I do feel strongly about it.

"We care at FIFA about everyone, we are an inclusive organisation. I have a number of gay colleagues so sitting here, I'm fully aware of the debate. I fully respect everyone's right and opinions to think differently.

"I get it but I also know what we stand for and when he [Infantino] says we are inclusive, he means it."

Felix Sanchez has sought to ensure Qatar focus on their football amid the controversy around the nation's hosting of the World Cup ahead of Sunday's opener against Ecuador.

But the Qatar coach is also realistic about his side's ambitions at their first finals, considering Ecuador clear favourites and suggesting Group A rivals may have already written the hosts off.

Sanchez was the first coach to hold a pre-match news conference on Saturday, with FIFA president Gianni Infantino's extraordinary opening address still prominent in the thoughts of many.

Infantino had defended Qatar following criticisms of human rights issues, its treatment of migrant workers and the illegality of homosexuality.

The topic of workers' rights was put to Sanchez, who replied: "A lot has been said about this – some misinformation, in my opinion. Some of the comments weren't completely fair, in my opinion.

"Obviously the loss of human life in working hours is the greatest tragedy we can endure, whether here in Qatar or anywhere else in the world.

"We just hope this World Cup means all together we can work to benefit the conditions for these groups, not just in Qatar but everywhere else in the world."

Asked whether the controversies had distracted from Asian champions Qatar's efforts on the field, the coach said: "I think that the best thing that can happen to a team and a footballer is to keep calm, avoid any sort of rumours and noise around you from a football point of view.

"Obviously we don't like people criticising our country, but in terms of football strictly we managed to have a great preparation for the World Cup.

"We kept calm. We are in good form. All the players come here with the highest motivation for tomorrow. We will try to give a good performance and be competitive.

"We have to be realistic around possibilities, but we have to do well."

Sanchez believes Qatar are "worthy to be here", but his realism was reflected in his analysis of a group that contains the Netherlands and Senegal, as well as Ecuador.

"It's three games, and we know the level of our opponent," said the Catalan. "Due to their history, their individual talent, their careers where they play, they are ahead of us.

"On paper, they should get the three points. Maybe they count on the three points already.

"But we are here to show we can be a competitive team. We will bring our 'A game' and try to get good results that will bring so much joy."

Qatar captain Hassan Al Haydos added: "We want to show the results of all of our hard work. God willing, we will perform much better than any game before."

Al Haydos appeared to be amused when an internet rumour, which claimed Ecuador had been offered a bribe to lose, was relayed to Sanchez.

"I said before: I think there is a lot of disinformation," the coach said. "The internet is great, but it is also very dangerous, from my point of view.

"For many years, we have been preparing, training. Together we are strong, nobody will be able to destabilise us with this criticism and statements.

"We are very motivated, excited and happy to be playing in a World Cup tomorrow. We are focusing on how to arrive with our best conditions. We don't take anything else into account."

FIFA president Gianni Infantino slammed coverage of so-called "fake fans" as "pure racism" during his remarkable pre-World Cup address.

Infantino gave a lengthy speech on the eve of Qatar 2022, commenting on a vast range of the controversial subjects that have dominated the tournament's build-up.

One of the topics highlighted was the coverage of fans in Qatar over the past week, with teams beginning to arrive in the country.

Social media has been awash with suggestions that many of the fans pictured in parades and congregating at team bases have not been the same nationality as the team they appear to be celebrating – or, "fake", to some.

It emerged a group celebrating the England team's arrival were Indian, and Qatar's Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy called the scepticism of their passion "disappointing and unsurprising".

Infantino went a step further.

"Help, don't divide. Try to unite. The world is divided enough," he told reporters. "We are organising a World Cup, not a war. Where anyone can come and enjoy. Look at the city – it's beautiful, it's happy, they celebrate.

"They went to see the teams, and what happened when they did – 'well they don't look like English, they look like Indians!'. 

"Can someone who looks Indian not cheer for England? Or Spain or Germany? You know what this is – it's racism, pure racism. Everyone in this world has a right to cheer for who they want."

The promotion of 'togetherness' was a common motif throughout Infantino's press conference, which lasted an hour and 40 minutes.

He brought it up again when asked about the validity of Iran taking part in the World Cup despite a backdrop of women's oppression in the country.

Women cannot attend football matches in Iran, and widespread demonstrations in the country were recently sparked by the death of a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, who died in police custody two months ago after being arrested for not wearing a hijab properly.

It was highlighted to Infantino that FIFA's own statutes say discrimination of any kind is banned, including gender discrimination, but Infantino defended Iran's inclusion in the tournament.

Asked why England should have to face a country with such ideologies, Infantino said: "Because it's not two regimes playing each other, not two ideologies, it's two football teams. It's football. If we don't have football to bring us together… You want another World War? Okay, go ahead, without me. We have to bring people together.

"If we could go with a tournament in Iran, let's go because maybe that will change something. Of course we'd need certain guarantees, but together we can play in a tournament. In Iran there are 80 million people living.

"Do you think they are all bad? All monsters? I don't think so. How many people live in England? Are they all good?

"Do we have to exclude everyone because not everyone is good or says the right thing? We'll fight and fight to bring people together, and the more we can do that, the better it will be because no one else is doing that."

Gianni Infantino expects Qatar 2022 to be "the best World Cup in history", he told reporters on Saturday while suggesting several criticisms of the finals were hypocritical.

An extraordinary opening speech saw the FIFA president respond on a wide range of matters, claiming he had received "almost threats" around the subject of migrant workers' rights.

But Infantino's enthusiasm for the action on the pitch, which begins on Sunday, remained undimmed.

One prominent complaint has been around the staging of the World Cup in the European winter – especially with matches in some domestic leagues finishing less than a week before Qatar's opener against Ecuador.

Antonio Conte last week described England captain Harry Kane as "very, very tired" due to a relentless pre-World Cup schedule, yet Infantino suggested this issue would be worse at the end of the season.

He is of the view this tournament will set a new benchmark.

"When the players have been playing in July, they are really tired, especially the best players who play in the Champions League," he said.

"It will be an exceptional World Cup, and I think we will see the best World Cup in history."

All eight stadiums used in Qatar are within a 55km radius of the capital of Doha – and Infantino sees this as another big positive.

He added: "It will be a very compact World Cup. No travel for the teams, ideal conditions, temperatures, venues, hotels, stadiums.

"Everything is done for them to feel good and play good.

"It's also the first time fans from all countries are coming to the same place for the whole tournament. This is unique.

"When we say football unites the world, this is exactly what it is."

Infantino is confident fans will enjoy the tournament – "to the fans who don't want to watch, don't watch," he added – and his defence of Qatar as hosts went beyond merely the logistics.

Asked to reply to predecessor Sepp Blatter's description of a "mistake" in the bidding process, Infantino said: "I've nothing to answer because I was not there. At that time, I was even known as one of the biggest FIFA critics."

In an hour-long monologue at the start of his news conference, the FIFA chief detailed at length steps that are being made to improve migrant workers' rights following deaths on World Cup building sites.

But Infantino was reluctant to accept criticisms on the topic from Europe, explaining: "We know there are many illegal workers in Europe, living in conditions that aren't the best.

"Those who reach Europe or want to go to Europe, they have to go through a very difficult journey. Only a few survive.

"So, if you really care about the destiny of these people, these young people, then Europe could also do what Qatar did: create legal channels for at least a number or percentage of these workers, who can come to Europe, give them some work, a future, hope.

"In Qatar, of course, there are things that still don't work, but this moral lesson-giving is one-sided, it is just hypocrisy."

He said: "I'm European. I think for what we Europeans have been doing in last 3,000 years, we should be apologising for next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons to people."

Gianni Infantino promised that "everyone is welcome" in Qatar, but was adamant the country must not be criticised despite its questionable human rights record.

A World Cup the FIFA president believes will go down as the best in history kicks off on Sunday, with host nation Qatar taking on Ecuador.

The awarding of the tournament to Qatar, which happened in 2010, has drawn much criticism, with the Gulf state's record on human rights particularly contentious.

Male homosexuality is still a crime in Qatar, while the nation's government does not recognise same-sex marriage or civil partnerships, while campaigns for LGBTQ+ rights have been quashed.

Infantino, though, assured that people of any sexuality, race or religion are welcome in the country, as in an hour-long monologue at the Main Media Centre in Doha on Saturday, he called out what he sees as the "hypocrisy" of the western world and media, insisting that he must take any criticism, and not Qatar or the players or coaches.

"At the last World Cup I was always getting angry, because I had to deal with questions about doping, which I had nothing to do with," Infantino said.

"Here I have to deal with other topics. If you want to criticise somebody, don't criticise the players, the coaches, let them focus on football and making their fans happy.

"If you want to criticise someone, criticise me, I am here, crucify me. Don't criticise Qatar. Criticise FIFA, criticise me. But let people enjoy this World Cup.

"Do we want to continue to divide, to spit on people because they feel different, or look different? We obtain results, it's a process. Help us, don't divide, don't split.

"We have 32 teams, 33 with the referees, we have a beautiful city that wants to welcome the world. Let's celebrate and hope we can give some joy around the world."

Infantino promised he had assurances that people within the LGBTQ+ community will be welcome and secure in Qatar.

"I've been speaking about this topic with the highest leadership in the country, several times," he said.

"I can confirm that everyone is welcome. If you're a person here or there that says the opposite, well it's not the opinion of the country, and it's certainly not the opinion of FIFA.

"This is a clear requirement, everyone has to be welcome. Whatever religion, race, sexual orientation or belief that she or he has, everyone is welcome – this is our requirement and the Qatari state sticks to this.

"Yes, these legislations exist in many countries in the world. These legislations existed when Switzerland organised the World Cup, in 1954. What do you want to do about it?

"Do you want to stay home and criticise, say how bad they are – these Arabs or Muslims or whatever, because it's not allowed to be publicly gay. Of course, I believe it should be allowed, but I went through a process.

"If I asked the same question to my father, who is not here anymore, he would probably have a different answer than me, and my children will have a different answer than me.

"If somebody thinks by hammering and criticising we achieve anything, it will be exactly the opposite, because it will be provocation and if you provoke me the reaction will be bad, then the doors will be more closed, even though now the door is starting to open.

"Tolerance starts with ourselves, we shouldn’t spread aggression, we have to spread understanding."

Infantino hopes the tournament will help unite the world, claiming that is FIFA's aim.

He said: "We are a global organisation, and we want to unite the world. I am still convinced, though not sure how optimistic I still am, that this World Cup will help to open the eyes of people in the western world to the Arab world.

"We have to live together, but we have to understand we have different beliefs, different history and backgrounds, but we are in the same world. It's why you have to come here and say what you see – when you see something that is wrong, say how it can be rectified, please.

"Maybe we can help everyone to understand how we can help each other a little bit better."

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.

The decision to host world football's showpiece event in Qatar - a country with a chequered past on human rights issues, its treatment of migrant workers and the illegality of homosexuality - has drawn widespread criticism, but in an extraordinary riposte, Infantino was unrepentant.

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."

Vinicius Junior feared he would miss Brazil's World Cup campaign through injury after being targeted by "dirty" challenges in the build-up to the tournament.

The Real Madrid winger has contributed to nine goals in LaLiga this season (six goals, three assists) – a tally only bettered by Robert Lewandowski (17) and Borja Iglesias (10).

Vinicius has also won 16 senior caps for Brazil after making his international debut in 2019, emerging as a key part of Tite's team ahead of the tournament in Qatar.

With the mid-season scheduling of the World Cup being criticised after several big-name players including Sadio Mane and Paul Pogba were ruled out through injury, Vinicius says both he and team-mate Rodrygo were targeted with unsavoury challenges by opponents.

"What happens on the field stays on the field, but it went too far," Vinicius told Reuters.

"You can come strong, but they were being dirty with their challenges. Rodrygo and I suffered a lot in those last games and feared the worst, to get injured and miss the World Cup.

"When you start to become an important player, rivals come after you harder. You have to learn to deal with that.

"I learned a lot from Neymar when he played for Barcelona, he suffered a lot too. Cristiano [Ronaldo], when he played for Real, suffered a lot too.

"But it was Karim [Benzema] who told me to stay calm and have peace of mind, because if the rivals are chasing you it is because you are relevant, because they are afraid of you.

"So that's why when I take the ball and burst forward, I do it with a vengeance. Yes, I can get hurt. But I'm prepared for the challenge."

Brazil get their quest for a sixth World Cup under way when they face Serbia on Thursday, looking to defend a fine group-stage record at recent editions of the tournament.

The Selecao are unbeaten in their last 15 World Cup group games, winning 12 (D3), with their last such defeat coming against Norway in 1998.

Luis Enrique believes it would be "unfair" for Lionel Messi to end his glittering career without winning the World Cup, and would like Argentina to triumph in Qatar if his Spain team fall short.

Messi will begin his fifth World Cup campaign when Argentina face Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, with the Albiceleste's 2014 final defeat the closest he has come to landing the trophy.

Despite scoring six goals at the World Cup (four in 2014), Messi has failed to find the net in 756 minutes of knockout action at the competition.

However, Messi approaches the tournament in fine form after a period of adaptation at Paris Saint-Germain, and if Luis Enrique is unable to lead Spain to glory in Qatar, he hopes his former Barcelona attacker emerges victorious.

"If Spain doesn't win the World Cup, let Argentina win it," Luis Enrique said on his Twitch channel on Friday. "It would be unfair for Messi to retire without a World Cup."


Asked who he thought would be the main contenders for the trophy, Enrique added: "Brazil and Argentina are the favourites that everyone has in mind.

"France and Germany, of course. Also, Spain and the Netherlands as a surprise."

Luis Enrique made 12 appearances as a player for Spain across three World Cup campaigns in 1994, 1998 and 2002, scoring twice.

However, La Roja never made it beyond the quarter-finals during his time as a player, eventually lifting the trophy for the first time under Vicente del Bosque in 2010.

Asked which players from that World Cup-winning side he would add to his current squad, Luis Enrique identified several other former Barcelona favourites.

"I would sign Xavi and [Andres] Iniesta from Spain's 2010 champions, like [Gerard] Pique and [Carles] Puyol," he said. "But I'll stay with [David] Villa to play with [Alvaro] Morata.

"The best Spanish player in history is Villa, for the number of goals he has scored for the national team.

"There are many others like [Laszlo] Kubala, Raul or [Emilio] Butragueno, and obviously Iniesta."

Roberto Martinez said "maybe we needed it" after Belgium suffered a 2-1 defeat to Egypt in their final match before heading to Qatar for the World Cup.

Goals from Mostafa Mohamed and Trezeguet condemned Belgium to a second consecutive defeat, despite Lois Openda pulling a goal back late on in Kuwait.

Belgium are ranked second in the world but looked well off the pace on Friday and a shadow of the team that made it to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018.

However, Martinez is hoping the poor display and loss will shock his side into life, telling VTM after the match: "This was not the result or performance we wanted, but maybe we needed it.

"We showed that we are waiting for the World Cup to start, but not that we are ready.

"We're going to have to make sure every player is ready for what it takes. Because you can't go to a tournament like that and expect to perform if you're not at your best."

The defeat to Egypt, a side that did not qualify for the World Cup, comes just five days before Belgium's opening match against Canada.

Friday's encounter was also their first since a Nations League defeat to the Netherlands in September, while many of Martinez's players were still playing for their clubs just last weekend.

The head coach rued the lack of preparation time the fixture list afforded him, adding: "In principle you need about five weeks to get ready for the World Cup, but that is simply not possible."

Substitute Dries Mertens echoed Martinez's positivity, saying: "Losing is not ideal, but it is good that we played again. There is still work to be done, but it will be fine.

"It is better that this happens now than at the World Cup."

After the match with Canada, Belgium will then take on Morocco and Croatia in Group F.

Pele "had Ghana in mind" when he predicted a team from Africa would eventually win the World Cup, the country's president said on Friday.

As the Black Stars set off for Qatar, hopes are high at home that the 2010 quarter-finalists can have another strong tournament.

Brazil great Pele forecast in the 1970s that a team from Africa would win football's greatest global title before the end of the century.

That did not come to fruition, and Africa has yet to produce a World Cup semi-finalist. Few would expect that to change in Qatar 2022, and Ghana enter the tournament as long shots.

The opening game for Otto Addo's team comes on November 24 against Portugal, who should have superstar Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks.

President Nana Akufo-Addo said: "A long time ago, the greatest footballer that's ever lived, the Brazilian Pele, said that very soon an African country is going to lift that trophy, and I know that he had in mind Ghana.

"Let's all together rally around the young men and the team and make sure we give them our maximum support.

"They're going to go a long way away in Doha and Qatar, but they should know the entire nation, without distinction of politics, or religion, or ethnicity; the entire Ghanaian nation are 100 per cent solidly behind them."

Ghana will also face South Korea and Uruguay in Group H, and the Professional Footballers Association of Ghana (PFAG) challenged the team to "hoist the flag of Ghana even higher on global football's ultimate stage".

"As the mother body of all professional footballers in the country, the PFAG expects a sterling showing from our gallant warriors to make all Ghanaians proud," the association said in a statement.

"We wish the playing body the very best as they lace up their boots to do battle on the world stage.

"To the technical bench, we urge you to continue doing your utmost and to leave no stone unturned in mapping out our assured paths to victory.

"Finally, to all teeming and passionate fans of the Black Stars, we ask that you enjoin us in fervent prayer and resounding support for our Stars!

"Let's chant and sing in one voice to push our team beyond all hurdles in their quest to shine bright in Qatar!"

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