FIFA president Gianni Infantino says people who claim there are 'paid fake fans' in Qatar are 'racist'
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FIFA president Gianni Infantino has said claims that Qatar has brought in paid ‘fake fans’ ahead of the World Cup are based in racism.
Earlier this week, officials were accused of paying people to pretend to be fans ahead of the tournament.
Videos shared to social media showed large groups of men wearing the colours of numerous teams including England, Germany and Argentina - but not everyone was convinced they were the real deal.
Social media users noted that many of the groups of fans carried very similar banners - saying ‘England fans Qatar' and 'Germany fans Qatar’.
The Supreme Committee, which organises the World Cup, also denied the claims, telling the BBC: "In different places around the world, fans have different traditions, different ways to celebrate, and while that may contrast with what people are used to in Europe or South America, it doesn't mean the passion for football is any less authentic."
Now, FIFA boss Infantino has accused those who suggested the fans were fake of being ‘racist’.
Speaking during a press conference, he said: “I am reading that these people don't look English so they can't cheer for England, they look like Indians. What is that? Can someone who looks Indian not cheer for England, Spain or Germany?
“You know what it is? It is racist, pure racist.”
The Qatar World Cup has been mired in controversy due to the country’s treatment of LGBTQ+ people and the deaths of migrant workers.
During his speech ahead of the World Cup, which starts tomorrow, Infantino said critics were in no place to ‘give moral lessons to people’.
He said: "Today I have strong feelings. Today I feel Qatari, I feel Arab, I feel African, I feel gay, I feel disabled, I feel [I am] a migrant worker.
"Of course I am not Qatari, I am not an Arab, I am not African, I am not gay, I am not disabled. But I feel like it, because I know what it means to be discriminated, to be bullied, as a foreigner in a foreign country. As a child I was bullied - because I had red hair and freckles, plus I was Italian so imagine. I went in my room and I cried.
"I feel for the FIFA and Supreme Committee staff. They want to deliver here. I am proud to have this FIFA sign on my jacket. It will be the best World Cup ever. Qatar is ready.”