Fifa president Gianni Infantino has accused the West of “hypocrisy” in its reporting about Qatar’s human rights record on the eve of the World Cup.
In an extraordinary monologue at a news conference in Doha, Infantino spoke for nearly an hour and made a passionate defence of Qatar and the tournament.
The event has been overshadowed by issues in Qatar including deaths of migrant workers and treatment of LGBT people.
Infantino opened by saying: “Today I have strong feelings. Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel a migrant worker.”
Hosts Qatar kick off the tournament against Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on Sunday (16:00 GMT).
In February 2021, the Guardian said 6,500 migrant workers from India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka had died in Qatar since it won its World Cup bid.
The number is based on figures provided by the countries’ embassies in Qatar.
However, the Qatar government said the total was misleading, because not all the deaths recorded were of people working on World Cup-related projects.
Infantino said: “I am European. For what we have been doing for 3,000 years around the world, we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before giving moral lessons.
“If Europe really care about the destiny of these people, they can create legal channels – like Qatar did – where a number of these workers can come to Europe to work. Give them some future, some hope.
“I have difficulties understanding the criticism. We have to invest in helping these people, in education and to give them a better future and more hope. We should all educate ourselves, many things are not perfect but reform and change takes time.
“This one-sided moral lesson is just hypocrisy. I wonder why no-one recognises the progress made here since 2016.
“It is not easy to take the critics of a decision that was made 12 years ago. Qatar is ready, it will be the best World Cup ever.
“I don’t have to defend Qatar, they can defend themselves. I defend football.”