FIFA president Gianni Infantino told reporters at a World Cup press conference that he understood what it was like to be discriminated against due to having been bullied for his red hair and freckles as a child.
“Today I feel Qatari,” Infantino said Saturday at the start of his first news conference of the World Cup. “Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel a migrant worker.”
Infantino later shot back at one reporter who noticed he left women out of his unusual declaration. “I feel like a woman,” the FIFA president responded.
“Of course, I’m not Qatari. I’m not Arab, I’m not African, I’m not gay, I’m not disabled. I’m not, really, a migrant worker,” he stated unprompted in his opening remarks.
“But I feel like them, because I know what it means to be discriminated (against) … As a child, at school, I was bullied because I had red hair, and, how do you call them? Freckles.”
“So I was bullied, of course, for that. Plus I was Italian, so imagine.”
The head of FIFA described overcoming discrimination: “You lock yourself down, you went to your room, you cry. And then you try to make some friends, you try to speak, to engage. And you try to get these friends to engage with others, and others and others.
“You don’t start accusing, fighting, insulting. You start engaging. And this is what we should be doing.”
Infantino, whose parents were migrant workers in Switzerland, earlier had earnestly compared the progress made by Switzerland and Qatar on accommodating migrant workers.
Migrant labourers who built Qatar’s World Cup stadiums often worked long hours under harsh conditions and were subjected to discrimination, wage theft and other abuses as their employers evaded accountability, London-based rights group Equidem said in a 75-page report released this month.
— With files from the Associated Press