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Gary Neville: FIFA president Gianni Infantino 'the worst face' for the 2022 Qatar World Cup

Gianni Infantino has come in for intense criticism after a pre-tournament speech in which he declared "today I feel gay" and "I feel (like) a migrant worker" before taking aim at European critics of Qatar; Sky Sports News' Melissa Reddy called it "misleading, disrespectful and offensive"

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President of FIFA Gianni Infantino gave a bizarre speech on the eve of the World Cup, which has been called 'astounding' and 'misleading, disrespectful and offensive'

Gary Neville believes FIFA president Gianni Infantino is "the worst face" to represent the Qatar World Cup after his controversial monologue on Saturday and wants the governing body to "clean up its act".

Infantino delivered an extraordinary hour-long speech in a pre-tournament press conference in Doha in which he declared "today I feel gay" and "I feel (like) a migrant worker" before taking aim at European critics of Qatar.

Ahead of Sunday's opening game of the 2022 finals between the host nation and Ecuador, Sky Sports pundit and former England defender Neville heavily criticised Infantino, labelling him as a "terrible face for football".

He told beIN Sport: "I've been all around the world with Manchester United: to the Middle East, the Far East, to Asia, Africa and Australasia and there's no doubt we should be taking football all around the world.

"But he's a terrible face for football, that guy (Infantino). Some of the things he said yesterday were inappropriate and shouldn't be said by him. He should be statesmanlike, he should be bringing people together, he's the global
representative of football, not answering to one or two nations which he seemed to be doing yesterday. He's got to rise above it.

"Some of his language yesterday about, 'I'm a migrant worker, I'm disabled' is an absolute scandal, he shouldn't be using that type of language. He shouldn't be using those phrases in my opinion.

Gianni Infantino speaks ahead of the 2022 World Cup
Image: Sky Sports' Gary Neville has criticised FIFA president Gianni Infantino after his controversial pre-tournament press conference

"I think FIFA is a poor representation of what football is, which is a beautiful game enjoyed by communities from Brazil to Bury, from Bolivia to Peru, to everywhere. I have to say that FIFA needs to clean up its act.

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"It's been bad for so long and my personal feeling with Infantino is that he's effectively put himself back into power for four years, there's no independence.

"We've got to have independence and democracy. He elects himself back into position and I think he's the worst face to represent the Middle East, Arabs, Muslims and the Qatar World Cup."

Infantino has received the support of more than 200 associations around the world to run unopposed as FIFA President, in what FIFA has stated is a democratic process.

FIFA said on Friday the 52-year-old Swiss lawyer was the only person to enter the race by the time the deadline passed - exactly four months before election day on March 16 in Kigali, Rwanda.

Infantino won a five-candidate race in 2016 to replace Sepp Blatter, and was re-elected unopposed in 2019. He is now set to stay in the job beyond the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Canada and Mexico.

At the end of Saturday's press conference, FIFA's director of media relations Bryan Swanson said: "I've seen a lot of criticism of Gianni Infantino since I've joined FIFA, in particular 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 everybody is welcome and I believe that everybody will be welcome in this World Cup.

"Just because Gianni Infantino is not gay does not mean he doesn't 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 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 am fully aware of the debate and I fully respect everyone's right and everyone's opinions to think differently, I get it. But I also know what we stand for and when he says that we are inclusive, he means it."

'This World Cup underpins how dirty the game is'

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Sky Sports News' senior reporter Melissa Reddy dissects FIFA President Gianni Infantino's 'astounding' statement

Sky Sports News senior reporter Melissa Reddy in Qatar on Infantino's press conference:

"What absurd, offensive, misleading thing did he not say? This is extraordinary and unlike anything I've ever heard before.

"You do not know what it feels like to be gay, Infantino, you do not know what it feels like to be disabled, you do not know what it feels like to be African and you cannot conflate being discriminated against because of red hair and freckles to any of the groups you've referenced have experienced. You cannot negate their experience by just saying you 'feel' what they feel.

"It is an absolutely astounding address from the FIFA president and it's probably even more astounding that he is being re-elected unopposed after being able to say stuff like this. He's also taken the fact that Qatar recruits from the poorest countries in the world, millions who have nothing and bring them to do what human rights groups call modern slavery, he's saying that's OK because they get paid more than they do at home.

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Chief Football Writer for The Times Henry Winter believes the statements made on the eve of the World Cup by FIFA President Gianni Infantino were offensive to football fans

"This is misleading, disrespectful, offensive, it's damaging to the cause to try to get better rights, better conditions for these workers to try and improve the human rights situation here.

"He talks about the hypocrisy, I do not think Infantino is the man to speak about hypocrisy. I do not think whataboutism is the correct route for a FIFA president to try and enforce change.

"If we all get stuck on what's happened before or what's going on elsewhere and we have to stay silent because of that, we'll never bring about any effective change. We'd all just never say anything ever because no country is untouched and untainted, but we're here for the World Cup and on the eve of the tournament, this is what we are getting.

"He says it will be the best World Cup in history, I think this will be the World Cup that really underpins just how dirty the game is."

'Infantino spoke almost like Trump'

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Kaveh Solhekol reacts to FIFA President Gianni Infantino's press conference ahead of the Qatar World Cup

Sky Sports News chief reporter Kaveh Solhekol in Qatar:

"It was a very bizarre performance from Gianni Infantino. Some of the things he was saying were absolutely ridiculous and at times it seemed like he'd almost developed a Messiah complex. The problem FIFA presidents have is they fly around the world, meet a lot of head of states and after a while they start to think and act as if they are a head of state as well.

"I got the feeling today he was talking almost like he was Donald Trump. Some of the stuff he was coming out with was dividing and ruling, it almost seemed like he was trying to stoke tensions between Europe and the rest of the world.

"If people in that room, 400 journalists, if we had microphones we would have interrupted him during the speech to correct some of the mistruths he was coming up with. I've seen some extraordinary press conferences in my time and that was one of the most extraordinary I've seen.

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Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has branded Gianni Infantino's comments as 'outrageous' after FIFA president's controversial speech

"It's insulting for a FIFA president on the eve of a World Cup to say he feels like a migrant worker when we know for a fact many of the migrant workers, who have built the stadiums and infrastructure, were getting paid as little as £1 an hour often to work and live in absolutely terrible conditions. I could not believe what I was hearing.

"It's insulting to compare getting bullied at school to living and working in the conditions some of the migrant workers have had to live and work in in Qatar over the last 12 years.

"He started off by saying, 'Today I feel gay'. That is insulting when he is in a country where being gay is against the law, it is criminalised and FIFA has decided to bring the World Cup here when they keep telling us football is for everybody."

2022 World Cup draw

  • Group A: Qatar, Ecuador, Senegal, Netherlands
  • Group B: England, Iran, USA, Wales
  • Group C: Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Poland
  • Group D: France, Australia, Denmark, Tunisia
  • Group E: Spain, Costa Rica, Germany, Japan
  • Group F: Belgium, Canada, Morocco, Croatia
  • Group G: Brazil, Serbia, Switzerland, Cameroon
  • Group H: Portugal, Ghana, Uruguay, South Korea
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