The forward has said he will not attend or watch the games this winter, citing Qatar to be unfit to host the competition.
The World Cup in Qatar has been criticised since the date of its announcement in 2010. Criticisms are sometimes ill-informed generalisations about Qatar’s lack of history as a footballing nation, allegations of corruption and lack of migrant workers’ rights.
Eric Cantona echoed these sentiments in an interview with UK’s The Daily Mail, where he expressed his reason to boycott the tournament.
“To be honest, I don’t really care about the next World Cup, which is not a real World Cup for me”, said the Frenchman.
“In the last decades, you had a lot of events like the Olympic Games or World Cups in countries that are emerging – like in Russia or China.”
“But Qatar – it’s not the country of football. I’m not against the idea of hosting a World Cup in a country where there is a possibility to develop and promote football, like in South Africa or the United States in the ‘90s.”
“In fact, now in the United States, the sport which has the most licensed people is football. But in Qatar, the truth is that there is no such potential. There is nothing. It’s only about money, I think.”
Cantona’s comments fail to explain the almost tangible football fever that gripped Qatar as it hosted the first ever FIFA Arab Cup last month. Hundreds of thousands of fans packed out stadia during the tournament which brought the country to a standstill as football enthusiasts demonstrated how successful Qatar can be in hosting a major international tournament.
“It’s only about money and the way they treated the people who built the stadiums, it’s horrible. And thousands of people died. And yet we will celebrate this World Cup.”
Proclaiming that Qatar has little footballing culture exposes what many analysts have described as a deficient western gaze. Qatar has held a football culture since 1948, when oil workers organised matches amongst themselves. Generations both young and old are seen playing the sport in parks and schools alike, and the Qatari national team has won the Arabian Gulf Cup three times, in addition to the first AFC Asian Cup.
In recent months there have been growing calls from European bodies to boycott the 2022 World Cup. Such efforts have been reflected by national teams including Norway, the Netherlands and Germany. While the teams have since rescinded their boycott, members of their teams are actively promoting the welfare of migrant workers.
However, these efforts usually fail to mention the huge swaths of change the Qatari government has implemented. Significant progress has been made regarding labour issues with the abolishment of the Kafala system underway, minimum wage law implemented, and 83.25 QAR million reimbursed by contractors to migrant workers.
Whilst these efforts are not enough to boast a completely changed system inclusive of labour rights, with some migrant workers still not receiving their full salaries and reports of abuses by business owners which include holding on to assets belonging to workers; reports by reputable rights groups and organisations like the UN’s International Labour Organisation, do state progress from the Qatari government as they are actively working to solve the issues pertaining to violations and exploitation.
Academic Dr. Justin Martin outlined the apparent hypocrisy in Eric Cantona’s call for a boycott, pointing out that Cantona not only watched the previous World Cup in Russia, but actively promoted it; despite Russia’s poor human rights record.
Eric Cantona says he won't watch Qatar World Cup for human rights reasons. Hard to take him seriously since he literally sang to promote WC in Russia, where LGBTQ symbols are illegal, journalists are routinely jailed, & protestors are beaten & disappeared https://t.co/jYLgTrHeiA
— Justin D. Martin | جاستن مارتن (@Justin_D_Martin) January 15, 2022
Boycotts in the previous World Cups in Russia and Brazil were not seriously discussed, despite both nations having a poor track record when it comes to human rights. This has led many to believe that the recent calls for a boycott of Qatar 2022 are part of a wider smear campaign against Doha.