Human rights activists have criticised FIFA President Gianni Infantino for appearing in a promotional video for the Saudi Arabian government in which he said the country has made important changes.
The three-and-a-half minutes PR campaign was posted on Twitter by the Saudi ministry of sport on Thursday, featuring Infantino participating in a ceremonial sword dance and sweeping shots of the palaces of Diriyah.
“It’s an amazing scenery, it’s an incredible history,” Infantino said in the video. “This is something that the world should come and see.”
The video, which also features Infantino praising how “a lot has changed” in Saudi Arabia, was filmed while on a trip that saw him meet with the crown prince, who has been credited with introducing social changes while cracking down on activists who pushed for reforms.
“It should be abundantly clear to everyone at FIFA that Saudi Arabia is attempting to use the glamour and prestige of sport as a PR tool to distract from its abysmal human rights record,” Amnesty International said in a statement to the Associated Press.
Infantino overlooked FIFA’s own significant issues with Saudi Arabia in the meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
FIFA and other major football competitions have spent more than three years trying to stop a Saudi-facilitated broadcasting operation from pirating broadcasts from Qatar’s beIN Sports.
FIFA issued a statement in 2019 which said the “piracy continues unabated” and requested the “Saudi Government take swift and decisive action against beoutQ.”
That has not happened with beIN, which owns the rights to World Cup matches across the Middle East, outlawed in Saudi Arabia.
Asked if Infantino used the meeting with the crown prince to raise issues over the illicit broadcasting operation, FIFA only pointed to a statement from last year after the World Trade Organisation found the Saudi state blocked moves to shut down beoutQ.
FIFA said the “main purpose” of the two-day trip to Saudi Arabia during the COVID-19 pandemic was “to witness the signing of the historic declaration between the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council.”
The declaration Tuesday eases a rift with Qatar, following Saudi Arabia’s decision to end a three-and-a-half year embargo of the tiny energy-rich country that has been impacting preparations for the 2022 World Cup around Doha.
FIFA did not confirm if Infantino challenged Prince Mohammed on human rights issues in Saudi, given the governing body’s own code.