Macron defends World Cup trip amid Qatar graft scandal – Europe

AFP

Doha, Qatar ●
Sat 17 Dec 2022

2022-12-17
09:45

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President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday stood behind France’s decision to travel to Qatar to support its World Cup team, despite allegations that link the Gulf monarchy to corruption in the European Parliament.

Macron watched France’s semi-final victory over Morocco before flying into Brussels at night to attend an EU summit.

Belgian police, investigating allegations that Qatar had bribed European politicians, arrested a lawmaker and three of his deputies and charged them with corruption.

Qatar denies any offense.

“I’m completely comfortable about it,” Macron told reporters in Brussels who asked about the trip. “I supported the French team in Russia four years ago and I support them in Qatar.”

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Macron plans to return to Doha on Sunday to watch France face off against Argentina in the World Cup final.

Prior to the tournament, Qatar’s labor laws and treatment of migrant workers, as well as the number of deaths at World Cup-related construction sites, were under scrutiny.

This led to calls to boycott the competition in France, including French football legend Eric Cantona. Cities like Paris have said they won’t be showing the matches on public screens.

“There was a lot of discussion with those who said, ‘I will not follow up, I will boycott on TV,’ but the numbers are clear,” Macron said.

TV viewing figures showed that more than 20 million people in France watched Les Bleus, almost a third of the population, beat Morocco 2-0 on Wednesday night.

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His trip to Qatar, where Macron sat in the VIP booth and then joined the victorious team in the locker room, drew criticism from local rivals.

Some praised Qatar when they said after the match that the Gulf monarchy had organized the trophy “very well”.

“At the same time that a serious case of corruption is erupting in Europe’s institutions, compliments on Qatar seem particularly inappropriate to me,” said far-right leader Marine Le Pen.

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Leading French Green party MP Sandrine Rousseau said she was surprised not by Macron’s presence in Qatar, but rather “having not the slightest critical word to say about this World Cup”.

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Left-wing lawmaker Mathilde Panot called it “inappropriate” for Emmanuel Macron and his government to give approval for this World Cup.

The 44-year-old president said before the competition that “we should not politicize sports”.

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera wore a rainbow-colored sweater with sleeves during France’s quarterfinal match on Saturday as a message of support for gay rights.

The European Parliament, whose President Roberta Metsola has declared alleged bribery of European lawmakers an attack on European democracy, will vote on a resolution Thursday that could prevent Qatari lobbyists from leaving its premises.

Belgian police seized 1.5m euros in cash last week and arrested Eva Kaili, a senior MEP and former vice-president of the European Parliament.


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