FIFA President Gianni Infantino said migrant workers gain pride from hard work when he was questioned on Monday about workers suffering in Qatar while building World Cup infrastructure.
Despite the abuses, Infantino claimed workers would feel proud at being given the chance to construct stadiums for the tournament in the Gulf nation, earning a living rather than being given charity.
The comments came after Infantino was asked at the global conference of the Milken Institute in Los Angeles if FIFA would use its profits to make “any sort of commitment” to help families of workers who died in Qatar.
Infantino did not directly address that point when responding to MSNBC anchor Stephanie Ruhle on stage, instead pointing to the introduction of a minimum wage and enhanced labor rights.
“Let’s not forget one thing … when we speak about this topic, which is work, even hard work, tough work,” Infantino said. “America is a country of immigration. My parents immigrated as well from Italy to Switzerland. Not so far, but still.
“When you give work to somebody, even in hard conditions, you give him dignity and pride. It’s not charity. You don’t make charity. You don’t give something to somebody and say, ‘Stay where you are. I give you something and I feel good.'”
Ruhle interjected: “But to build the stadium where the World Cup is to be played.”
Infantino responded: “Exactly. It’s also a matter of pride and to have been able to change the conditions for these 1.5 million people, this is something that makes us as well proud.”
Infantino did not directly dispute the claim put to him by Ruhle — denied by Qatar after being reported by The Guardian — that 6,500 workers have died building infrastructure to stage the Middle East’s first World Cup in November. Infantino said only three people have died on the construction sites of the stadiums.
“Now 6,000 might have died in other works and so on,” Infantino said. “And of course, FIFA is not the police of the world or responsible for everything that happens around the world. But thanks to FIFA, thanks to football we have been able to address the status of all the 1.5 million workers, working in Qatar.”
Construction workers, mostly men from southwest Asia, live with multiple people in the same bedrooms in Qatar, while their families remain in their home countries. Switzerland, which Infantino cited, welcomes families and offers free public education to children of immigrants.
FIFA also announced on Monday it had added a first new American sponsor of the men’s World Cup in 11 years, signing a deal for this year’s tournament in Qatar with blockchain technology provider Algorand.
The deal is also a “technical partnership” to help FIFA develop a digital assets strategy, football’s world governing body said. It could help FIFA market related non-fungible tokens (NFTs).
The value of the World Cup sponsorship, at a third-tier regional level covering North American and European rights, was not disclosed. FIFA has set a target of earning $7 billion total revenue in its four-year commercial cycle that ends in Qatar.
FIFA operations are turning toward North America ahead of the expanded 2026 World Cup being hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico. It should be a commercial boon with 48 teams competing instead of 32, playing a total of 80 games instead of 64.
Algorand founder Silvio Micali said in a FIFA statement his company could help “transform the way we all experience the world’s game.”
The deal also covers the 2023 Women’s World Cup being hosted by Australia and New Zealand.