‘I’m defending football here, and injustice’ was the standout quote, for me, from what has been described as a ‘bizarre tirade’ by Fifa president Gianni Infantino at a pre-World Cup press conference yesterday. But (Freudian?) slips aside, there were plenty of gems to choose from.
Other highlights of the rambling, hour-long diatribe include Infantino’s impassioned identification with the downtrodden, ‘Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled.’ He could have reached a crescendo by standing up and declaring ‘I’m Spartacus’ but left it at that.
Remarkably, with a straight if rather frosty face, and applying the sort of clumsy association that would be career-ending in a politician, Infantino justified his empathy with the oppressed by talking about his migrant worker parents, who toiled in terrible conditions in, er, Switzerland. He claimed to understand the discrimination faced by migrant workers, citing the bullying he had received at school because of his, er, red hair and freckles.
He rounded on the European critics of the tournament by denouncing their hypocrisy and cant. ‘This moral lesson giving… It’s one-sided’ he fumed. Warming to his theme he hyperbolically condemned Europeans for 3,000 years of wickedness, for which, apparently, we should apologise for another 3,000 years. He thus raised the stakes from the modest demands of climate activists that Britain should atone for the industrial revolution or anti-slavery campaigners whose claims go back just a few centuries; for Infantino, it seems Europe’s crimes began in the mists of pre-history.
What provoked this outburst? Part of it may have been the last-minute change to alcohol regulations, which rattled Infantino’s gilded cage.