Right, so this blog kicked off this morning with updates with that turned out to be a staggering speech from Gianni Infantino. I am about to sign off for the evening but before I do, here is great piece of analysis from Paul MacInnes on the Fifa president’s rambling address.
Infantino told the world he feels Arab, African, gay and disabled, while the media are racist hypocrites. So how accurate was his World Cup monologue?
David Beckham loves an opening ceremony appearance, so this from Simon’s suggestion that (Sir) David could assume the John Gordon Sinclair role and deliver a heartfelt version of ‘We Have A Dream’ is a good shout. Alan has submitted: ‘Fistful of Dollars’ by Babe Ruth, not familiar to me but based on the title alone it merits inclusion.
At the behest of themselves, Qatar will feature in the opening game of the World Cup tomorrow.
Asian football specialist John Duerden’s latest piece says that the pressure is on Félix Sánchez to ensure Qatar do not follow South Africa into the unwanted record books as a host nation to fall at the group stage.
Back to the opening ceremony, Derek is on the right track with his suggestion.
He writes in: How about Pavement’s ‘Zurich is Stained’? It clocks in at under two minutes, making it perfectly succinct for the opening ceremony. Malkmus and the lads were always the masters of irony.
This might have slipped under the radar amid all the goings on in Qatar, but it was virtually confirmed this week that Gianni Infantino will be reappointed Fifa president by acclamation next year. This is due to no other candidate standing against him.
According to PA Media, the FA will support Infantino’s re-election, but on a number of conditions. In the short term, the FA is keeping pressure on Fifa to contribute to the establishment of a support centre and compensation scheme for migrant workers in Qatar.
Longer term, the PA Media report says that FA support for Infantino is conditional on no new threats being posed in the revised international calendar. Earlier this year, FA chief executive Mark Bullingham said his organisation’s opposition to the introduction of biennial World Cups in the men’s or women’s game, and any future moves could weaken the FA’s support for Infantino.
The FA also wants to see stricter human rights criteria applied to future bids, amid reports Saudi Arabia is interested in co-hosting the 2030 finals.
The German FA announced earlier this week it would not support Infantino’s bid for re-election, citing Fifa’s handling of human rights issues in Qatar and its failure to take a stand on Iran
A couple more suggestions for our alternative opening ceremony setlist:
Bill offers up an Infantino tribute with Larkin Poe’s ‘Keep Diggin’ and Jerry suggests Ian Drury’s ‘Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll’. The latter might be a bit too on the nose for me, I am thinking more irony and less mockery, but keep them coming in.
The perception might be that squad morale in the Portugal camp is not all that high. Not the case, according to Bernando Silva, who says the mood is “top, top, top”.
Jamie Jackson has the story:
Qatar head coach Félix Sánchez has a big job on his hands. Usually the World Cup hosts get a decent neutral backing but that was not the case in Russia and is not likely to be this time around either.
Andy Hunter’s latest from Doha:
We might have opened up a can of worms here but I am more than happy to get the spoon out and dig in.
Email from Thomas: Other opening ceremony song ideas, maybe Rose Royce’s 70s disco funk classic ‘Car Wash’ sung to the alternative lyrics of ‘sportswash’?
Send in more suggestions for (in)appropriate opening ceremony songs and let us see what kind of setlist we can draw up.
Email from Kurt simply asks: Will John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ be played at the World Cup opening ceremony?
Imagine there’s no countries…
Great question. I imagine Kurt has his tongue firmly in his cheek and the Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony on the brain. It certainly seems an odd fit for a competition literally pitting countries against each other, but those oscillating at the top of the global governing body ecosystem seem to love that song.
The only names on the confirmed list for the opening ceremony so far are Robbie Williams and Jungkook from BTS. The latter will perform a song called ‘Dreamers’, apparently.
Others rumoured to be performing are the Black Eyed Peas and Nora Fatehi.
Thanks Barry. We had a bit of an update on the Wales squad earlier, Ben Fisher will be the man on the ground for us following Rob Page’s team in Qatar:
That’s all from me. Still reeling from that Gianni Infantino press conference, I’m off for a lie-down in a darkened room. Tom Bassam is ready to take up the cudgels. Have a great weekend, everyone.
Poland: Hands up who’d completely forgotten that Aston Villa defender Matty Cash will be at the World Cup with Poland? Well, consider me temporarily typing one-handed with the other arm raised in the air as I’m reminded Cash will face his Aston Villa teammate Emi Martinez when Poland take on Argentina.
“Obviously when we step on the pitch, we become rivals although we are team mates at Villa,” said Cash. “It’s another massive game against a really strong opponent.”
In Qatar, English-born defender Cash will play his first major tournament with Poland after being granted citizenship last year. The 25-year-old, who has seven caps for Poland, qualified for citizenship through his mother and grandfather.
“Everybody dreams of playing at a major tournament and it has come now [at the World Cup], which is really exciting,” he said. “I really like pressure and think playing in the Premier League is pressure in itself... I want to prove myself on the biggest stage and this is the time to do it.”
Qatar: Despite the shiny veneer on the ground in Doha, exploitation lies just beneath the surface. Emma Kemp reports from Doha.
More from Eric Dier: England’s Eric Dier has described the “terrible situation” for migrant workers in Qatar as disappointing and said that controversies away from the pitch have stripped away some of his excitement about the World Cup. Jacob Steinberg reports from Doha.
England: England defender Eric Dier says it would be wrong to ignore off-field matters in Qatar but says constant questions about the cloud hanging over this World Cup is dampening players’ excitement.
The Gulf nation’s human rights record, treatment of migrant workers and oppressive LGBTQ+ laws have dominated the build-up to the 22nd edition of the tournament and this morning, Gianni Infantino took aim at European critics of Qatar on the eve of the World Cup in an extraordinary media conference that finished Dier spoke to the media.
“It’s extremely difficult every day for all of us as players,” said Dier, who had not seen Infantino’s press conference. “We come here and we know these topics are going to be addressed and it’s a difficult situation for us.
“The World Cup was awarded here to Qatar in 2010 and I was 16 at the time. It’s very difficult for me to talk on it because we as players have absolutely no say in where we play. Those decisions are made by people way above us and obviously we’re the ones who end up sitting here having to answer these kind of questions. It’s a difficult situation for us.
“Not just us, every team, every player is going to experience it throughout the whole tournament. It’s disappointing. For me individually, I carry the values I’ve been given by my family and what I’ve grown up with, how people have educated me. I carry those values wherever I go. At the same time, I respect everywhere that I go.
“We’ve been here a very short time so, for me, it’s important to live this experience and then at that point have a much better idea of what to say on it. A lot of things have already happened - a lot of things are very disappointing - and those will always be in my mind. But as a team, and individually, we carry certain values and no matter where we go we’ll carry those values. And at the same time, we’ll respect everywhere we go. It’s difficult for me to talk about that kind of situation.”
In case you missed it: Fifa president Gianni Infantino gave a quite extraordinary press conference in Doha this morning, during which he angrily railed against critics of Fifa and the World Cup host nation, likened himself to an impoverished migrant worker and accused westerners of hypocrisy and racism. Sean Ingle was there to see it all unfold …
Wales: Wales trained today and Aaron Ramsey, Gareth Bale, Chris Mepham, Ethan Ampadu and Jonny Williams all worked – or at least began the session – away from the main group. This should not be a cause for alarm among Wales fans, as their workloads are being managed individually. Joe Allen is still training alone to work on his fitness after a long spell on the sidelines, but is unlikely to feature in Wales’s opener against the USA on Monday.
Qatar national team: Qatar coach Felix Sanchez believes the World Cup can be a force for good but described the deaths of migrant workers as a “tragedy” on the eve of his side’s opening game.
Qatar will make their World Cup debut with an opening Group A fixture against Ecuador tomorrow and the Spanish coach, who has worked in Qatar for 16 years, becoming manager of the senior team in 2017, was asked about the issues ahead of the match.
“A lot has been said about this, with some misinformation,” he said. “In my opinion some of the comments weren’t completely fair. Obviously the loss of human life during working is the greatest tragedy we can endure, whether here in Qatar or anywhere else in the world.
“We hope this World Cup means that all together we can work to improve conditions of these groups, not just in Qatar but everywhere else in the world.”
Such is the level of controversy that participants from all nations have faced questions. A reporter sought to ask Ecuador midfielder Moises Caicedo about it during Saturday’s press conference, but coach Gustavo Alfaro stepped in before the Brighton player responded.
“Please don’t put us in trouble,” Alfaro said. “We are in favour of all human rights, that’s for sure. They are good players with their own talents, their own dreams and hopes, and they deserve to be praised for that.”
Gianni Infantino: Following the Fifa president’s jaw-dropping press conference this morning, the man who sat alongside him throughout took his turn to speak to the press. Bryan Swanson, the former Sky Sports News journalist, has been Fifa’s head of media relations since 2021 and mounted a robust defence of his boss.
“I am sitting here as a gay man in Qatar,” said Swanson. “We have received assurances that everyone will be welcome and I believe everyone will be.
“Just because he [Infantino] is not gay, does not mean he does not care. He does. You see the public side and I see the private side. I have thought long and hard about whether I should say this. I do feel strongly about it.
“We care about everyone at Fifa. I have a number of gay colleagues. I am fully aware of the debate and fully respect people’s opinions. When he says we are inclusive. He means it.”
Qatar have given other assurances that have already proved less than convincing so I’m not sure why Bryan feels so confident their guarantee that members of the LBGT+ community will be welcomed with open arms is iron clad. Time will tell.
Wales: Drink it in boys. Give them some Welsh sugar! Yma o Hyd!
England: Gareth Southgate must get the best out of his creative players or England risk going no further than the quarter-finals, writes Bristol City manager and former England women’s international Anita Asante, who is worried about the team’s “cautious mentality”.
Gianni Infantino: Hmmmm. On the Fifa website’s equivalent of this rolling blog, there is not a single mention of Gianni Infantino’s remarkable press conference, which took place at least four hours ago. There is, however, a mention of his call for respect for the tournament referees at a previous presser.
“I am asking everyone to try to put yourselves in the shoes of the referees just for a moment,” he said. “Imagine you were on the ground in front of 80,000 people in a stadium, a few hundred million on television and you have to take instant decisions which can affect entire countries.”
Italian referee Daniele Orsato will be the first official to go under the microscope when he referees the tournament opener between the hosts Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium tomorrow. No pressure, Daniele.
Wales: Guardian interviewer Don McRae and photographer Tom Jenkins are both very nice men who are the very top of their respective trades. From the composer and singer of Wales’s rousing anthem to the country’s most-capped footballer, they have collaborated to hear the voices and shoot the images that matter before the country heads off to its first World Cup finals since 1958.
Gianni Infantino: Here’s the thing; this morning’s extraordinary, borderline deranged monologue delivered by the Fifa president was actually supposed to be a Q&A with the world’s media. One presumes that by filibustering his way through it for just shy of an hour, Infantino was hoping to keep questions to a minimum and his ploy certainly worked, albeit not in the way he might have hoped.
Those present and those of us who have since seen his tin-eared ramblings all appear to have been utterly gobsmacked by his self-indulgent, messianic speech, which is now making sensational headlines around the world for all the wrong reasons. Not content with insulting the many migrant workers who have been treated so disgracefully over the past decade and beyond, the Fifa president also said that anyone who accused Qatar of paying “fans” to support certain teams is racist. “This is racism,” he said. “This is pure racism and we have to stop that.”
In other completely unrelated news, fans who have travelled to Qatar as part of a controversial paid-for supporters programme have been told by Qatari authorities that their cash has been cut.
Armband news: England captain Harry Kane is still set to wear the ‘OneLove’ rainbow armband against discrimination at the World Cup despite Fifa announcing plans for its own band featuring a number #vagueplatitudes on the eve of the tournament.
Fifa confirmed its armbands would be worn as part of a partnership with United Nations agencies and the Football Association is understood to be seeking clarity on whether that and the ‘OneLove’ version can be worn together.
While it respects the Fifa-UN initiative, the FA intends to continue supporting the ‘OneLove’ campaign, in a country where same-sex relationships are criminalised. FA chief executive Mark Bullingham has said the FA is even prepared to be fined over the issue, having had no response from Fifa to a request for permission to wear it earlier in the autumn.
The game’s global governing body said captains of the 32 nations would wear armbands in support of different social campaigns at each stage of the tournament. The theme in the quarter-finals will be ‘no discrimination’. Wales are another of the nine European nations set to wear the ‘OneLove’ armbands during the tournament.
It is perhaps worth noting that many members of the LGBTQ+ community have been critical of the ‘OneLove’ armband, describing it as a kop out because it is not a rainbow design and because the FA have at no point clarified exactly what it stands for. Adam Crafton from The Athletic has been particularly vocal on this point and his Twitter timeline makes for interesting reading on this and a range of other topics.
Thanks Will and hello to all our leaders. Today I feel Qatari, Arabic, African, gay, disabled, like a migrant and more than a little nauseated by Gianni Infantino’s tone deaf, almost hour-long insult to our intelligence and the tens of thousands of migrant workers who were treated so appallingly in the 12-year long build-up to this World Cup. What an odious, hypocritical, self-serving creep the Fifa president is.
It’s time for me to hand over to Barry Glendenning. What did you make of Infantino’s speech, Barry? We’re all looking forward to finding out.
In case you missed it, here’s Barney Ronay on Emmanuel Macron joining the monotonous chorus of shiny suits calling on people to keep politics out of football. Unless your name is Gianni Infantino, in which case it’s OK to politicise football in the crassest way imaginable.
Anyway, what better time for Fifa to release their #FootballUnitesTheWorld message? A cynic might say that their largely vacuous new “social campaign” is an attempt to flood our screens and obscure the fact that some players will be wearing “OneLove” armbands in support of LGBTQ+ rights. But, no, they wouldn’t be that sly, would they?
In case anyone has forgotten, it’s only a few weeks since Infantino wrote a letter to all 32 teams at the World Cup urging them not to talk politics and to “focus on the football”.
Launching into an incredibly pernicious, misleading and inflammatory harangue on the eve of the tournament is fine, though. Hypocrisy? You be the judge.
Someone has shared their thoughts on Infantino via Twitter! Unfortunately, they are unpublishable.
While Infantino is busy feeling like a migrant worker from the comfort of his sofa, here’s a timely reminder of how the story of the brutal working conditions for low-paid labourers in Qatar has developed over the last decade.
Has Infantino’s speech gone down well, then? It’s probably best for him not to check Twitter for a while. Or the news media. Or television. Or anywhere outside of his reality-bending Fifa bubble.
Here’s a reminder of what conditions for migrant workers in Qatar are like. Infantino empathises, obviously, just as long as nobody is overly critical.
“Today I have strong feelings. Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel [like] a migrant worker.”
It was a strong start from Infantino, that’s for sure. Why exactly the multimillionaire Fifa president thinks he can identify with a migrant worker labouring on low wages in exploitative and dangerous conditions on a Qatari infrastructure project, only he knows.
Then again, given that he went on to say “I know what it feels to be discriminated … I was bullied because I had red hair” – drawing an absurd false equivalence between himself and LGBTQ+ people who face repression and criminalisation in Qatar – an iota of self-awareness is clearly too much to ask. Here are the main points from his press conference in Doha, in case you’d like to have your intelligence insulted further.
Hello, and welcome to our World Cup buildup blog. What’s that? Gianni Infantino has done a speech? No doubt it was a sensible, coherent, morally sound … sorry, he said what?!