France repeatedly faced scrutiny for its treatment of Muslims and immigrants.
French President Emmaneul Macron said politicising sports is “a very bad idea”, as Qatar faces growing criticism from the Western ahead of its hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup.
The statements were published by the AFP on Thursday, just days ahead of the major tournament, where France will compete for glory again after claiming the 2018 trophy in Russia.
“I think we must not politicise sport,” Macron told reporters in Bangkok, as quoted by the French news agency.
The French president added that questions over Qatar’s alleged human rights abuses and treatment of the LGBTQ community “must be addressed when hosting the event is decided”.
France had qualified for the 2022 World Cup last year in a crushing 8-0 win against Kazakhstan, and is set to play its first game against Australia on 22 November. The Blues, or Les Bleus, will then take on Denmark on 26 November before facing Tunisia on 30 November.
According to AFP, Macron will head to Doha if Paris reaches the semi-finals.
‘Racist’ anti-Qatar campaign
Macron’s statements come just days ahead of kick-off and amid rising criticism driven by the West towards Qatar as the first Arab nation to host the World Cup.
Notably, the French president had not previously addressed the anti-Qatar World Cup campaign despite much of it stemming from French and other European outlets.
Officials from Qatar and the region have pointed to “racist” motives behind the campaigns, which has included various headlines that have been denounced by authorities in Doha as misleading and sensationalist.
Recently, controversial French newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné sparked outrage for a cartoon that featured ‘long bearded’ angry men donning ‘Qatar’ football kits while in possession of guns and knives, in what was widely seen as a racist attempt to paint the Gulf state’s national football team .
One of the characters is seen wearing a ski mask while carrying a rocket launcher along with an AK-47, as another has dynamite stick bombs wrapped around his waist.
The cartoon was quickly met with a flood of criticism by social media users in the Middle East and beyond. In one tweet, popular social media user Hend Amry said, “France is gonna France.”
French ambassador to Doha Jean-Baptiste Faivre told Al Kass TV earlier this month said “criticism of Qatar’s treatment of migrant workers by some French entities “do not reflect the position of the government.”
“France will not boycott the World Cup,” he added.
Qatar’s Labour Minister Ali Al Marri went on to raise the cartoon in front of members of the European Parliament during a human rights debate in Brussels on Monday. During the meeting, Al Marri took aim at the “racism and hate speech” targeting Qatar.
Last year, various European countries doubled down on scrutiny with the launch of a campaign to boycott the World Cup. These include Denmark, the Netherlands, and France. Despite this, ticket sales have spiked in Europe.
At least 10,000 French fans have also registered through the Hayya portal, a mandatory document needed for those wishing to attend the World Cup.
France’s football captain Hugo Lloris suggested he will not join European captains in wearing an “anti-discrimination” armband over Qatar’s stance towards the LGBTQ community. The French captain said he wants to “show respect” to the Gulf state, as AFP reported.
Racism in France
Despite this, analysts online have pointed to rampant disrespect of minority communities in France.
The European nation has repeatedly faced scrutiny for its treatment of Muslims and immigrants, who make up at least 13% of its total population, per 2019 statistics from the French Institute for Demographic Studies (INED).
In 2018, the INED found that half of France’s immigrants come from seven countries, including Algeria (13%); Morocco (11.9%); Portugal (9.2%); Tunisia (4.4%); Italy (4.3%); Turkey (3.8%); and Spain (3.7%).
In 2020, the resurfacing of offensive Charlie Hebdo cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad sparked controversy worldwide.
This led to a disturbing incident in which a teacher in France was killed for showing his class the cartoons. France responded by clamping down on “extremism” with a large-scale crackdown on Islamic entities in the country, raiding more than 50 mosques and associations.
Macron also said at the time that Islam was a religion “in crisis” worldwide and that France would “not give up cartoons,”.
This sparked mass action and virtual campaigns condemning France’s islamophobia, including calls for a boycott of French products under a popular #BoycottFrance movement.
At the time, Qatari residents and citizens called to replace French goods with Turkish products, with the Gulf state’s flagship Al Meera supermarket removing French products from its shelves.