Ginger hair and freckles. So now we know. That is why we are where we are: plonked down here in the middle of the desert, Persian Gulf to one side, gleaming new (often half-empty) skyscrapers and sporting monuments of excess and exploitation on the other, for a Christmas World Cup that is definitely beer-less and feels ever more cheerless.

It is the freckle-face and Fantapants jibes that brought football to its point of no return.

Gianni Infantino’s Qatari crusade exploded into spectacular technicolour on the eve of the World Cup with a press conference for the ages in this a golden age of sporting hubris. One of the highlights of which was surely his argument that as a schoolboy who had felt the wrath of Swiss classmates “because I had red hair and freckles” he understood the plight of the world’s downtrodden and discriminated against.

Football is all about taking your chances. So you would hope that Ian Maxwell and Scottish FA chiefs were watching and considering a heartfelt appeal to Gianni for some gingered-and-freckled solidarity funding. Christ knows that John Delaney, the scoundrel who almost bankrupted Ireland’s FA, would have been quick on the blower.

What to say about it all? Was it even really a press conference? It felt more like a piece of performance art. The Hippie Generation have

Woodstock 69. Nu-Metallers had Woodstock 99. Whataboutism will surely never top the soaring highs of the Qatar National Convention Centre 2022. Ed Sheeran, One Republic and The Script have all played here, but could not have come close to bringing

the soaring ceilings down

like Gianni.

Where to start? Where to finish? The smart editors at Herald Towers have limited us to 1,000 words or so. Infantino’s set stretched to a full 57 minutes, so we will have to focus on the greatest hits. He began with an absolute belter.

“Today I have very strong feelings. Today I feel Qatari. Today I feel Arab. Today I feel African. Today I feel gay. Today I feel disabled. Today I feel [like] a migrant worker,” he said, before explaining how he could possibly be all things, all at once.

“Of course I am not… [any of the above]. But I feel like it, because I know what it means to be discriminated [against], 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.”

Ah yes, imagine. Actually as quite likely the most freckled soul in the place, we did not have to. “Freckles are a sign of beauty,” Mammy Callaghan used to reassure us. A few Swiss mothers in the ’70s

could have done with her input, clearly.

From there on the false equivalences came raining down like confetti. It was hard to concentrate. Above Infantino’s domed head, long since mercifully shorn of the cursed flamed follicles that had blighted his early years, an HD animation of the Qatar 2022 logo twirled. According to the nonsense they churn out on such occasions, “the swooping curves of the emblem represent the undulations of desert dunes and the unbroken loop depicts…the infinity symbol, effecting the interconnecting nature of the event”.

This was a Saturday afternoon for infinity alright. The amount of drivel and rich, white-man grievance flowing from the stage was infinite. Infantino, who is reported to earn $250,000 a month or about $1,600 an hour, compared himself to the migrant workers who make 35p an hour guarding the stadiums their predecessors died constructing. He compared his upbringing as the son of Italian migrants to Switzerland to that of the Nepalese, Bangladeshi and North Africans who have

built Qatar’s absurd World Cup for them.

He accused Western detractors of FIFA’s chaotic first major venture to the Middle East of gross hypocrisy: “We have been told many, many lessons from some Europeans. I think for what we Europeans have been doing the last 3,000 years we should be apologising for the next 3,000 years before starting to give moral lessons to people.”

It was open season on Europe and inside it all there were a couple of valid points, but delivered by this man, from this plinth and cloaked in false equivalence amid a blizzard of the stuff, they only landed with those desperate to hear them. The racism card belatedly came out when he lashed the reaction to the videos of Indian fans turning up to greet the arrival of England and other teams.

Again, the white Western lens through which many aspects of the first World Cup in the Arab world have been digested can certainly be problematic. But when so much about this tournament feels contrived, summoned up from the sands just to give the occasion a sense of legitimacy, it can be hard to take anything at face value too quickly.

Doha has felt different these past few days. As it surely was going to. But even on Friday night and yesterday morning en route to the Infantinshow, there was a noticeable lack of tournament atmosphere. The city’s Corniche, a picturesque pathway that hugs its blue bay, has been busy. But buzzing? Not quite. Fans do not appear to have yet travelled in the sort of numbers organisers have claimed and certainly nowhere close to previous editions. Not yet anyway.

Infantino was not done. Having beseeched competing nations to stop talking politics, he was 40-odd minutes deep into doing just that. Afghanistan and the Taliban came up. Israel and Palestine. North Korea at one stage.

His fresh assurances to LGBTQ+ fans still rang hollow. Which is what happens when the laws of the land you are speaking in criminalise same-sex relationships. There was a personal moment from FIFA’s director of media relations and former Sky Sports reporter Bryan Swanson, who sat beside Infantino.

“I am sitting here as a gay man in Qatar,” said the Scot. “We have received assurances that everyone will be welcome and I believe everyone will be.”

Towards the end, Infantino broke from the touchy-feely stuff to boast that in spite of all that has been written, all that has been said, this World Cup will turn a profit that sets a record by measures in the hundreds of millions. That is the crowd-pleaser the FIFA rank and file love to hear, which is why he has been re-elected unopposed for another four years.

Outside the hall, his material had not landed as he maybe hoped. More likely he did not care.

“Deflection and whataboutery have always been at the core of Qatar’s PR efforts to defend its rank failures,” said Nicholas McGeehan, director of human rights group FairSquare, one of many to lambast his performance. “And now they have the FIFA president doing their work for them.”

Given he had run way over the scheduled time, there was not time for many questions, but the deflection kept on coming a while longer. He brushed off the Budweiser furore by pointing to the fact you can’t get a pint in Scottish stadiums either. Again, not the point.

But look, we have already gone well past the point. Past all of them. Before we actually kick off the whole show, he had one more, which is likely to have been the point of all of this.

“You can crucify me, I’m here for that. But don’t criticise Qatar,” he said. “Let people enjoy this World Cup.”

We would have liked to enjoy it, Gianni, we really would. And at times, such is the persuasive power of football, we undoubtedly will. But ultimately we can’t truly enjoy it. And as much as he has to answer for, when it is all distilled, he has that to answer for most of all.

Those Swiss bullies, meanwhile, clearly have plenty to answer for, too.