PARIS – French President Emmanuel Macron will visit Qatar for the second time in a week, despite widespread concerns about human rights and the environment in the emirate. Why? Because France is in the finals of the FIFA World Cup and because Macron is a huge soccer fan, as well as an important defender of the long-standing partnership between the two countries.
Footage of France's semi-final win over Morocco showed an elated Macron mingling with French players in the dressing room at the Doha Stadium on Wednesday night, cheering on the success of the Free from Desire team. anthem
The FIFA World Cup in Qatar has sparked many debates, from the living conditions of migrant workers to the air-conditioned stadium environment and the plight of LGBTQ people, as well as women and minorities. Many activists, especially in Europe, have called for a boycott of the tournament.
They also highlighted on social media that the six-hour flight from Paris to Doha was energy-intensive and climate-insensitive, contradicting Macron's previous pledges.
At the European summit held in Brussels on Thursday, Macron said that he fully supports his decision. "I'm a fan of the French team, and I think France is too," he said.
He cited the example of more than 20 million viewers watching the semi-final on French channel TF1, a record number for a World Cup game since 2006. "There are numbers. We love our team, we are proud, we want it to win," Macron said.
A sports enthusiast, the 44-year-old Macron played football at the elite French administrative school of HEC in the 2000s. He is a fan of Marseille in the south of France and last year played in a charity soccer match, the first for a sitting French president, in which he awarded a penalty.
Macron was also seen boxing during a campaign rally in the northern suburbs of Paris in April this year ahead of his re-election bid for a second term, a sport he reportedly enjoyed with some of his security agents.
The French president had previously announced that they would advance to the semi-finals and final if France qualified, as they did at the previous World Cup in 2018 when France won in Russia.
In response to criticism last month, he said that "sports should not be politicized."
Paris and several other major French cities have decided not to broadcast World Cup matches on giant screens in public spaces for fans to watch because of human rights concerns in Qatar.
Macron, who said he would meet with Qatari officials on Sunday, appeared to stick to his usual diplomatic approach, which includes talking to other world leaders about tough issues "when the need arises," according to the French president.
He is one of the few world leaders who has maintained open relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the beginning of the Ukrainian war.
Franco-Qatari relations, which date back to the emirate's independence in the 1970s, include political, economic and security arrangements that include oil contracts, arms sales and cultural exchanges. The leading French football club "Paris Saint-Germain" belongs to Qatar Sports Investments for more than 11 years.
When Macron visited Qatar a year ago, he issued a joint statement with the Emir of that country, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The two leaders pledged to strengthen economic cooperation and "jointly address global challenges, including regional security, terrorism, climate change and energy transition."
On Wednesday, the organizer of the Avaaz civic campaign published a statement in two French newspapers condemning Macron's visit to Qatar, saying: "The players don't need you in the World Cup. The planet needs you."
"We thought it was a stunning failure of leadership that Emmanuel Macron went to watch soccer in Canada instead of the UN Biodiversity Conference," Avaaz CEO Oscar Soria tweeted.
Several left-wing French politicians also criticized Macron's visit to the emirate.
Greens MEP Yannick Jadot said this week that the visit to Qatar was a "political mistake", especially in the context of a corruption scandal that led to the European Parliament suspending work on all documents. Qatar: . .
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