FIFA president Gianni Infantino blasted the “hypocrisy” of Western critics of Qatar’s human rights record on Saturday, making a passionate defence of the World Cup in the Gulf state on the eve of the kick-off.
The build-up to the tournament has been dominated by concerns over Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers, women and the LGBT community, to the visible annoyance of organisers.
Qatar officials say their country has been the target of “racism” and “double standards” and they point to reforms on working conditions and safety that have been hailed as groundbreaking in the region.
Football itself again took a back seat on Saturday, with the focus firmly on off-field politics just 24 hours before hosts Qatar were due to open the tournament against Ecuador.
Infantino, speaking at his opening press conference of the tournament in Doha, had harsh words for critics of Qatar.
“This moral lesson-giving – one-sided – is just hypocrisy,” said the Swiss.
“I don’t want to give you any lessons of life, but what is going on here is profoundly, profoundly unjust.”
He added: “For what we Europeans have been doing for the last 3,000 years we should apologise for the next 3,000 years before starting giving moral lessons to people.”
Infantino also expressed his support for marginalised communities.
“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,” he said.
Another issue that has dominated the build-up to the tournament is the sale of beer in the Islamic country, which severely restricts alcohol consumption.
Organisers on Friday performed a dramatic U-turn, banning beer sales around stadiums just 48 hours before kick-off.
World football governing body FIFA gave no reason for the surprise decision but media reports said there had been an intervention by Qatar’s ruling family.
Dozens of Budweiser beer tents had already been set up at grounds ahead of the first game.
Infantino made light of the late change on Saturday.
“I think personally if for three hours a day you cannot drink a beer, you will survive,” he said. “The same applies in France, Spain, Scotland.”