Infantino, tu quoque

“The ideal subject of totalitarian rule is not the convinced Nazi or the dedicated communist, but people for whom the distinction between fact and fiction, true and false, no longer exists.” – Hannah Arendt, Origins of Totalitarianism

Since it was bought it in 2010, the World Cup in Qatar has been criticized by many people the world over. At the onset, people were angry that bribery was at the heart of the decision to award the cup to Qatar, with 11 of the 14 members who voted in favor since banned from football or jailed for corruption. And when Qatar backed down from their promise of air conditioned stadiums (made during the bid) and asked instead to move the cup to the “winter”, that also sparked more frustration and for some to call for a re-vote of the award. That anger subsided until it was revealed that somewhere around 6,500 migrant workers were killed making the stadiums for this tournament and that many migrant workers were paid very little and held in virtually slave like conditions. Qatar sort of addressed this, raising the minimum wage, telling employers that they couldn’t let their employees work in midday heat during the summer months, and (de jure) abolishing the system where employees weren’t allowed to switch employers. And of course, there’s the most recent outrage where a spokesman called homosexuality a “disease of the mind”, which reminded everyone that LGBTQ+ Qataris are jailed, tortured, and forced to undergo “treatment” for their “disease”. Qatar reacted to that latest outrage by pinky-promising that “everyone is welcome” in Qatar (as long as you follow their rules, which include a ban on homosexuality).

In that context, yesterday, Gianni Infantino took center stage at the Qatar World Cup and made a chilling speech in defense of the Qatar World Cup in which he told Europe to, essentially, “examine the log in your own eye before you comment on the speck in mine”.

Infantino spent an hour defending the Qatar World Cup and Fifa and did so with something that has become very commonplace in modern rhetoric, by saying simply that critics are hypocrites. “What we Europeans have been doing for the last 3,000 years, we should be apologizing for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons” he said. I’ve heard variations of this line of reasoning 3,000 times on this blog and on social media, and it crops up nearly every time I criticize anything but especially if someone from the USA or UK criticizes anything any other country is doing.

Criticize China’s treatment of the Uighurs? What about the US war in Vietnam?

Criticize Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine? What about the British invasion of Afghanistan (1838)?

Criticize Israel’s settlements? How about the way Canada treated the Native Americans?

You can literally do this farcical rhetorical argument 1,000,000 over. Unless, as far as I can tell, the speaker is from Finland. I believe that the Fins are the least genocidal of all countries and one of the few countries not involved in slave trade. Oh wait, I’m just now getting word that Finland didn’t recognize same-sex marriage until 2017. I guess the Fins are also in the bin.

It is, of course, the argument an infant would make. The idea that only the purest of pure could ever level any criticism of anything is absurd beyond belief. And I’m always surprised that the person making these arguments doesn’t suffer a self-inflicted embolism, their brain revolting at the idea that they could walk around a living, functioning, human and truly believe that simple tu quoque is a legitimate argument.

Is genocide good or not?

Is racism good or not?

Is homophobia good or not?

Is misogyny good or not?

Is bribery good or not?

Is slavery good or not?

Do workers’ conditions matter or not?

Is the destruction of the planet through the runaway consumption of fossil fuels good or not?

The twisted rhetoric of tu quoque* attempts to end debate about a topic by arguing that all crime, all morality, all truth, is irrelevant because the speaker isn’t 100% pure. And it only works because people are all too well aware of their own country, family, or personal faults and failures. People don’t like to admit that their own country committed atrocities. So, it seeks to end debate.

My counter to that argument has always been to acknowledge the atrocities of the United States of America, a country founded on genocide and slavery. A country where women rights have never been fully realized. A country where gay rights are not fully realized. A country which is in many ways very undemocratic. A country which continues to abuse workers rights around the world, where migrants are treated with contempt, and the children of migrants are jailed. A country which has murdered its own citizens on foreign soil without due process. A country which refuses to curb its own fossil fuel consumption and is the largest contributor to the death of the planet. A country which jails people indefinitely without trial. And a country with a long history of military conquest, colonialism, and genocide around the globe.

The counter to the argument of “what about your country???” is to simply say, “yes, we did that and I know that these things are wrong. I try to do my best in my country to stop these things from happening. I speak out. I vote for candidates who I think will do fewer of these things. Do you agree that they are wrong or not? If you do, then you’ll join me in saying that it’s wrong.” Because only that way, only by speaking out together, can we stop these atrocities. By refusing to speak out or by giving comfort to autocratic despots, we only embolden them more. This is how the death of truth gives rise to totalitarianism.

Our liberal beliefs, our desire to see many sides of a truth and to uncover new ways of seeing and understanding the universe and mankind’s place in it, is often used against us by illiberal forces. People who control money and power want to make truth and reality untenable. Then can people be molded to do whatever they want us to do. Because nothing really matters.

In her incredible essay on the destruction of truth in 2018, Michiko Kakutani closes with the ultimate danger inherent in the anti-truth, anti-fact modern world:

“There are no easy remedies, but it’s essential that citizens defy the cynicism and resignation that autocrats and power-hungry politicians depend on to subvert resistance. Without commonly agreed-on facts – not Republican facts and Democratic facts; not the alternative facts of today’s silo-world – there can be no rational debate over policies, no substantive means of evaluating candidates for political office, and no way to hold elected officials accountable to the people. Without truth, democracy is hobbled.”

And yet, we saw exactly what has happened since then. The pandemic exposed the world to our real sickness: the sickness of anti-truth. And millions of people died.

I don’t have all the answers but I do know that we need to stand up to people who try to tell us that reality and truth are completely relative and that there is no truth.


*which goes by the name of “whataboutery” or “whataboutism” which debases the real issue: that no one – neither the person accusing the original agent of forgetting about some other crime, nor the person uttering “whataboutery” – is talking about the real topic at hand which is whether the issue being complained about is right or wrong.


  1. Gianni Infantino in May at Davos: “Football can change the world”. November in Qatar: Nevermind that, football should focus on the game and stay out of society and politics.
    Fifa and Qataris: Beer OK in stadium concourses, oops wait we didn’t mean that. Alcohol only OK in stadiums if you’re paying >$10K for a suite.

    And yes, the US and pretty much all other countries have done bad things in the past. Those bad things should be something we learn from and try not to repeat, rather than an excuse to misbehave.

    One positive note coming out of the other big international thing happening…the climate conference in Egypt. The rich countries have agreed to a fund to help poor countries offset the effects of climate change. This is exactly what should be happening…yes the West has used massive amounts of fossil fuels to get where it is. That doesn’t mean it’s also OK for that to happen in the rest of the world, and taking some of our benefits to keep that from happening is the right thing.

  2. Truly brilliant, on the money, impassioned rant!
    The Economist article referenced by Caveat Emptor in the last post had a point in needing to distinguish between “truly repugnant regimes and merely flawed ones”.
    And criticism of others always ought to be made with an awareness and recognition of one’s own flawed history.
    That said, we still need to call a spade a spade.
    Infantino’s 1 hour impromptu (self) justification shows he’s already been around too long: the fact that he’s standing for a third term apparently unopposed beggars belief.
    Wenger for President! (or someone Finnish).

  3. Yeah, this whataboutery is mostly bad faith, and Infantino is the worst possible spokesperson for conscience. I’m glad that labour practices and discrimination in Qatar are getting all the brickbats – the only way football will change anything societal is if there’s some minimal pressure associated with hosting the world.

    The one thing I wish commentators would think through is talking about human rights violations, corruption, and hot weather/changing the “normal” schedule in the same breath. For example from Lineker’s BBC coverage opening —

    ““It’s the most controversial World Cup in history and a ball hasn’t been kicked… Homosexuality is illegal here, women’s rights and freedom of expression are in the spotlight, also the decision six years ago to switch the World Cup from summer to winter.”

    One of those things is really not like the other.

    1. Thoughtful piece, Tim. One of your best. But, as a child of the Caribbean, I have some thoughts.

      Qatar’s human right record is bad… but Lineker can spare us the winter world cup bullshit. The 2010 world cup in South Africa was in the southern hemisphere winter. I wasnt there (would love to hear from our ZA poster), but it was clear from the photos of spectators in coats that it wasnt like the usual summer tournament. I’ve been to KZN and Lesotho is the ZA winter, and it’s bloody cold, not least because of the altitudes.

      It’s arrogant to suggest that all world cups should fit into the European/northern hemisphere summer. It’s called a WORLD cup for a reason. It’s going to go to all parts with all conditions. Bring on Australia.

      Do you know who Qatar beat out in the 2022 bid? The United States, among others. And look, I dont want to do whataboutery, but in some parts of America, a pregnant 11 year old rape victim would have to carry her pregnancy to term, under the penalty of criminal conviction — of her parents and the doctors brave enough to do the right thing. In many of the countries taking part in the world cup, a gay relationship is a jailable offence of up to 25 years. Dont even get me started on the social justice failings of American law enforcement and jurisprudence.

      When I point these things out (as I did in a Facebook conversation today), I get accused of whataboutism. But these are facts, and they are relevant.

      What we need is a bid system that considers these things at source. Hugo Lloris is right. It’s not for him and the other players to make statements and gestures now that the tournament is underway.

      But hey, hopefully the world shames them into reform. And yes, we should absolutely sound off against Qatari injustices

      1. Vast improvements made to worker conditions has been documented by various journalists.

        Rather than just point fingers and criticize, a more helpful response would be to implore and engage the Qatar authorities to continue to with the reforms (tip them for the actual improvements) and have journos to continue reporting. Because it seems to be working. Don’t let everything collapse post world cup.

        This cancel reaction is a sickness that pervades western societies. You don’t do anything constructive with this. Infantino might be dumb with his arguments (it is dumb) but he is right that engagement is the only way.

        I am very sure pointing fingers won’t change a thing. Plus all that criticism about Qatar on worker rights, the truth is western societies are the number 1 when it comes to restricting access to foreign labor. If Qatar do not hire these Bangladeshi, would western countries do so? I don’t think so. They would just tell them that the West is helping by using more renewables. In the meanwhile, please stay at home and do not add to the carbon footprint. Just be indigenous like the movie Avatar.

        1. It’s called accountability not cancellation. [eye-roll emoji]

          Engaging autocracies doesn’t prompt them to change…if it did, allowing China to join the World Bank (in 1980) and the other Western economic engagement policies would have also brought the much-advertised social liberalizations policies. News flash, no such social liberalism is forthcoming in China.

      2. Strongly disagree with you and Hugo Lloris. Although athletes have every right to remain silent in the face of injustice, the notion that athletes should “shut-up and play ball” is dangerously myopic and intellectually sedentary.

        Tell Tommie Smith or Mohammad Ali they should not have used their platforms to speak truth to power, and part of me will always view Michael Jordan as a self-absorbed coward for choosing to stay silent in order to sell sneakers.

        I’m not fully engaging with this World Cup for the same reasons I didn’t fully engage with the last World Cup…Russia and Qatar are noxious countries, and allowing them to host the World Cup is antithetical to the sporting spirit.

      3. Yes, I know the failings of the United States. And yes, you are engaging in tu quoque. Hugo Lloris is an asshole.

        1. It’s context. Context doesn’t like black and white. I live in a very homophobic part of the world (which is codified in la), and I cant help but note with wry amusement people here sounding off on Qatar.

          But hey, let’s see if either of us does this again in 4 years’ time, when America under President De Santis co-hosts.

          btw, FIFA had all of the leverage in the One Love armband affair. What were Qatar going to do? Cancel the World Cup? FIFA should have resisted Qatar, and made it a matter of choice for the respective FAs. I can support the freedom of expression of those who choose to wear the armband, and freedom of choice of expression of those who don’t (i.e. Hugo Lloris’)

          1. It’s not “context” to point out another country’s failings. Context would be saying that Qatar has always been a homophobic country. What you’re doing is saying that it’s ok for Qatar to jail and torture gay people “because the USA has done bad things too”.

          2. Fair point on context, but your last sentence is a ridiculous logical stretch. Im saying no such thing.

            It’s not OK. I have friends in Iranian media who cant go back home for these same reasons for the same reasons that Qatar represses its people, and who to my great surprise, told me they were supporting England today. I dont know if they feel the same way after their players ballsy refusal to sing the anthem.

          3. I wonder if this has also something to do with culture. If WC were held in the US, non-western countries (media, players etc) are probably not going to go there protesting against the perceived failings of the host.

  4. No surprise that Infantino makes his statements while is hiding from Swiss authorities in Qatar. He has become Qatar’s puppet. FIFA & UEFA has shown that they are riven with corruption. Every decent player and manager should be highlighting the fact that this tournement was bought and paid for, to promote Qatars image around the world

  5. Tim I agree with you one million percent. Thank for stating it in stark and eloquent terms.

    I want to add two nuances here though.

    1. Power dynamics. It’s not like the governments and authorities criticizing Qatar are equals. They used these injustices and atrocities to reach the pinnacles of power. Qatar is not their equal, and so there is a strong element of punching down. Now Qatar is no backwater, they have natural gas money and have used it to develop. But the power dynamics exists nonetheless.

    2. Take it from someone who grew up in the region, the criticism from those in the West is often very much built on racist tropes and stereotypes. I will not say that the LGBTQ thing is overblown, but the way it is discussed is extremely crude and the reductionism is harmful. For instance, both of the following are true: 1. Governments like Saudi (not sure about Qatar) try to infiltrate tech companies to monitor LGBTQ citizens internally and externally. 2. The role of the xanith, or third sex (which exists in many cultures) is known, common and accept in numerous Gulf cultures. Go read about it. I worked and went to school with folks who were openly gay in all but name. There were certain places where gay couples would congregate openly at night under cover of darkness. Everyone knew it, including authorities, but a blind eye was turned. Because the religion does not really low it, but the culture does.

    It’s been a while since I lived there so maybe attitudes have changed, and I find it hard to reconcile the two facts. But they’re both true. And it makes the valid criticisms within the racist reductionism difficult to be fully onboard with.

  6. Just blow the transfer budget on Bellingham, Edu.

    Monster player.

    (and great goal, Arsenal #7 😊)

  7. Bravo to the Iranian players that have been outspoken in support of the protests in their country. They are putting themselves at real risk.
    OToH, I wish Kane had come out for the second half wearing the rainbow armband and taken the yellow if that was going to be the punishment. England were well on top at that point and there would have been little risk in making a statement.

    1. Replies on his timeline are all the same: “respect the rules of the host”. Which is literally just missing the point.

      1. It’s not at all clear that was going to be a rule…
        Sounds like they confiscated rainbow hats from the Welsh fans as well. Bogus. If they were going to have a rule that said that no-one supporting gay rights was welcome, they should have made that clear long ago.

  8. Congratulations on a truly superb piece, Tim. I concur.

    I wonder how far back in the history of a nation do people feel that it is legitimate to refer in an attempt to stop contemporary critics from criticising current injustices, despite few, if any, of those criticised having any relationship to or responsibility for the events cited. Do we go back to Cain and Abel? The history of every nation contains despicable deeds in the eyes of contemporary mores. On the limited evidence available it seems probable that every racial group was involved in genocidal acts during prehistory and indulged in slavery during the historical period.

    Are we, by the rules of ‘tu quoque’ (many thanks for this education) doomed never to make progress as a species as we are all disqualified from criticism?

  9. Like I said before, if we over analyze our involvement in football or the food industry or basically any other facet of modern life we end up paralyzed. It’s a moral dilemma for the ages and it’s up to each of us to decide how involved we want to get with that. For my part, I like football for football, I always have and I always will. If that makes me an accomplice to evil then so be it.

    I didn’t get a chance to see any of the matches in full but just caught the highlights. I’ve also been reading a lot of think pieces and opinions on who has the best team in Qatar, but nobody seems to know. I think it’s quite straightforward though: the teams with the best mix of physicality and technique are Brazil, France and England and nobody else seems close. They also have the deepest and most talented forward lines, and again, it’s not close. So, one of those 3 will win and it will depend on which of them can play mistake free and take their chances.

    None of the other squads really stand out, not even Germany or Spain who are both short on firepower. Belgium and/or Croatia and/or Uruguay are the most likely to flop given the age of their squads. Argentina has received a lot of attention but I just don’t see it. Messi is no longer a player who can win games single handed, and I don’t think their midfield or back line can match up well against any of the big 3. I predict they will dominate against weaker opposition but crumple when the going gets tough.

    If I had to pick a dark horse, it’s Serbia. I’m not sure about the individual quality of their defenders, but they’re likely to be tall and strong and full of bastardry. As usual they will play heavy, and their average height is 6’1″. But what gives me confidence is that the team has goals in them: Vlahovic, Mitrovic, Tadic, and Jovic is an embarrasment of riches for such a small country. I also like Senegal and Japan though I don’t back either of them to go far because they won’t score enough goals.

    1. “I think it’s quite straightforward though: the teams with the best mix of physicality and technique are Brazil, France and England and nobody else seems close”.

      This is a pretty good read. Selfishly, Im hoping that Arsenal boys like Saka and Saliba have starring roles, and that G11 somehow gets game time from that absurdly deep Brazil bench

      1. Lil Chili with the brace for the 3 lions! He cannot be denied!

        In other news, Poland, Denmark and Mexico are all a bit sh*t.

    2. Argentina lost 2-1 against the Saudis, despite being gifted a penalty in the first half. They now have to win against stodgy Poland and Mexico squads, neither of whom is likely to play the offside russian roulette that KSA did. I could rub my belly and say I told you so, but they dominated that game utterly and scored a hatful of offside “goals.” It was the domination we all expected but with the result flipped on its head. As an Arsenal fan, I had a strong sense of deja vu.

      They should still roll to the final 16 because this group is terrible. But I’m not sure that’s how it’s going to go.

  10. Olivier Giroud (49) is only 2 behind Thierry Henry (51) as France’s all-time goal scorer. Whaaat?

      1. Does any former gunner inspire more Granit Xhaka type sympathy than Giroud? So many of us only paid attention to his shortcomings, which were real, but didn’t appreciate the many great attributes. We wanted him to be something he wasn’t, and let him get away. Giroud wasn’t the problem, it was that we were asking too much of him. Much like Xhaka, he can’t carry the role all by himself but is a fantastic complementary piece. He’s aged like a fine wine and would be the perfect to plan B striker for us even in 2022.

        1. I never understood the hate Giroud got. I always liked him. Appreciated his amazing touch @ the pivot @ Wilshere’s Norwich goal, goal vs Spurs the day before Ozil was announced, etc.

  11. big up to giroud. i’ve never stopped giving that man his flowers. now, he’s tied with the great thierry henry for most goals for france, and is likely to surpass him in the near future. i wished wenger kept the faith in him that deschamps has. everyone that’s kept faith in him has been rewarded.

    i didn’t want lacazette to replace him, as giroud was simply better; not a better player but a better center forward. laca could have played as a second striker behind him. in fact, that move might have gotten laca back in the french team. giroud has won the league in france and italy, like 4 fa cups, a europa league, a champions league, a world cup, is france’s top international scorer, and all of his team mates love him. this guy has, unassumingly, had a hall of fame career. and you’re right, doc. it would be nice to get him to come back to arsenal on loan. however, they love him in france so that’ll never happen. once again, big up to giroud.

    1. I wouldn’t want him back now. I’d rather find a more long term solution. But I think we missed out on several years of an outstanding squad player by selling him to Chelsea, further proof of the wayward player evaluation of those days. Maybe that Europa cup final could have been different too if Giroud was wearing red and not blue.

      1. I think it was more values rather than valuation i.e. Wenger allowed him to leave to fulfil his national team ambitions, so I never blamed either party. Glad the hfb got the career he deserved; the fast players get slower but Giroud’s not going to get shorter, so I’m not surprised at his longevity…

  12. Daughter-of-1-Nil still has a massive crush on Giroud. I wish it was for his football. There are worse things, I suppose. She wouldn’t be a Gooner but for him.

    I’m really happy for him though, as I hear he’s now tied with Titi after sending off the Aussies. I’m so glad he was a Gunner.

  13. Germany look lost, too many players past their best, maybe too much reliance on Bayern.
    Spain,OToH, have probably added their name to the list of favorites alongside France and Brazil.

    And yes, wish we’d kept Giroud. He has fantastic touch and holdup play and is a great option when teams sit deep. I wouldn’t start him ahead of Jesus, but he’d be a great backup if we could somehow get him. Seems very unlikely though, as he’s doing well at Milan.

  14. All the Giroud nostalgia is nice, but Benzema is far and away the best CF on the planet. Yes, I said CF. Feel desperately sorry for him. It’s his last world cup (Giroud’s too). This would have been the perfect cap on an outstanding year.

    Im with Josh. Giroud and Lacazette, not Laca for Giroud. How short our memories are, though. Memories of Giroud labouring in front of goal, and of a long barren run, when we watched our challenge to Leicester City fade.

    His other clubs found the right system in which to make him thrive, and to make his teammates better. We did not, latterly; and it’s too late to fix that now. But Arsene let him go to Chelsea, to stay in the frame for world cup selection in 2018. It was a decision WE would come top regret, but it was a brilliant one for him.

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