(CNN) — “Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel homosexual. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel like a migrant worker,” FIFA chief Gianni Infantino said in a fiery speech on Saturday. in which he compared his own situation, as the redheaded son of immigrants, with that of marginalized communities.
His apparent empathy with Qatar was due to the mountain of criticism the country has received in the Western media as the host of the tournament.
But it is hypocritical for the West to lecture others in morality, he said.
Those statements on the eve of the World Cup went viral, provoking much anger and ridicule. But for many Arabs and Muslims they resonated powerfully.
Omar Alsaadi, a 21-year-old Qatari, told CNN that Infantino vocalized “from a Western point of view” what many of his compatriots have felt when being subjected to racism.
In the run-up to the tournament, Western media coverage has been dominated by controversies surrounding the event rather than the sport itself, including the Gulf nation’s treatment of migrant workers, its rules on LGBTQ people and its strict social restrictions.
The British public broadcaster, the BBC, refrained from broadcasting the opening ceremony on television, opting instead to cover criticism of the host country. The BBC said it did broadcast the ceremony on its video-on-demand service.
This year’s World Cup is undoubtedly like no other before it. It is the first to be held in a Muslim country, and Qatar has done its best to give the event a distinctly Arab and Muslim flavor.
The Bedouin-themed opening ceremony began on Sunday with a singer wearing the traditional burqa, a type of face covering that has been banned in several European countries. She also quoted a verse from the Qur’an about the creation of mankind into “nations and tribes” so that they could know each other.
According to social media reports, some hotel rooms in the country offer visitors QR codes to learn about Islam, and Muslim volunteers have been teaching visitors about Islamic fashion.
Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy (SC), responsible for overseeing infrastructure projects and World Cup planning, did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.
But in an earlier statement to CNN, the SC said it was committed to an “inclusive and discrimination-free” World Cup.
“Everyone is welcome in Qatar, but we are a conservative country and any public display of affection, regardless of orientation, is frowned upon. We simply ask that people respect our culture.”
The visibility of the Islamic symbols in Qatar has not escaped the attendees. A live joke by a French journalist about the presence of “many mosques” in the country sparked outrage from Muslims on social media.
Western media have also been accused of spreading stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims.
On Monday, the Times of London newspaper claimed that “Qataris are not used to seeing women in Western dress in their country,” in a caption that was later deleted after being flagged on social media.
About 87% of the country’s 2.9 million people are expatriates, many of whom are Westerners.
“I think the Western media is biased because they don’t want to see an Arab success, a Muslim success in delivering and hosting a soccer world cup in a third world country,” Najd Al-Mohanadi, a senior minister, told CNN. 20 year old Qatari
However, some Western media have spoken out against stereotypes and alleged prejudices. Ayman Mohyeldin, an MSNBC presenter who previously worked for the Qatari network Al Jazeera, said the recent coverage of Qatar shows “the depths of Western bias, performative moral outrage and, perhaps most importantly, blatant double standards.” .
The Economist and The New York Times have also published articles defending Qatar’s right to host the tournament. The Times of London published an article stating that criticism of Qatar was “steeped in hypocrisy”.
“I always question the moment [de las críticas]as migrants across the region endure precarious living conditions for little pay, while working in grueling physical and mental conditions,” said Mira Al Hussein, a postdoctoral researcher from the United Arab Emirates studying at the University of Oxford, England.
“Scrutiny is necessary and there is no point in linking it to world events where virtue signaling becomes deeply problematic,” Al Hussein told CNN.
“Especially when it comes from entities that are not NGOs and that are themselves implicated in human rights violations inside and outside their borders.”
James Lynch, director of the human rights group FairSquare and a former British diplomat in Qatar, said that while some coverage of Qatar in the West has reinforced negative stereotypes about the Arab and Muslim world, most criticism has been “fair and proportionate”.
“It’s absolutely correct to point to instances of that kind of coverage, but it’s wrong to generalize from those examples to imply that all, or most, of the criticism is driven by racism,” he said.
Workers in the country continue to “face harsh and abusive working conditions and severe exploitation, with domestic and construction workers most at risk,” he said, adding that Qatari women and LGBTQ people “face serious discrimination and repression, both in law and in practice”.
Critics of Western media coverage of Qatar have countered that other countries with questionable human rights records received no such scrutiny when hosting world sporting events.
“At the risk of falling into fallacies… Qatar’s human rights record, however poor, cannot be more scandalous than that of other countries such as Russia, China and Israel,” Al Hussein said. “Of course, Qatar is not carrying out ethnic cleansing, nor are immigrants living in concentration camps, despite the poor living conditions.”
Maryam AlHajri, a Qatari researcher at Doha’s Institute of Graduate Studies, said some of the recent rhetoric around Qatar shows that some Western critics have been more concerned with fueling an “orientalist discourse”, referring to language intended to impose the vision Western world, than for human rights.
“This should not be read as a justification to stop criticizing the condition of migrant workers in Qatar,” he said. “Rather it should be read as an argument about the need to contextualize the situation of migrant workers as part of a globalized economic order built on colonialism and racial capitalism.”
However, he noted that some overzealous government supporters on the Qatari side have neglected the country’s shortcomings on human rights.
“Many of the people who defend Qatar are also using frighteningly pro-government language,” he said, adding that it gets to a point that doesn’t help the cause of Qatari migrant workers.
“The situation of immigrant workers in places like the United States or the United Kingdom does not take away from the fact that we have problems in Qatar,” AlHajri told CNN. “It shouldn’t be about those kinds of accusations.”
— With additional reporting by Mariam Dirar Alqasem in Doha.