Paris has joined several French cities in announcing they will not show World Cup matches in public places or set up “fan zones” in protest at human rights and environmental abuses in the host nation, Qatar.
The moves to boycott the competition next month come after what has been described as a “last minute crisis of conscience” by the public authorities.
Local authorities in Marseille, Lille, Bordeaux, Reims, Nancy, Rodez and the capital have announced they will not install giant television screens as in the past to relay matches.
“This competition has gradually turned into a human and environmental disaster, incompatible with the values we want to see conveyed through sport and especially football,” Benoît Payan, the mayor of Marseille and head of a leftwing and environmentalist coalition, said in a statement.
In Lille, the city council unanimously voted not to broadcast World Cup matches. The city’s Socialist mayor, Martine Aubry, said holding the competition in Qatar was “a nonsense in terms of human rights, the environment and sport”.
In Paris, Pierre Rabadan, a former French rugby international and the deputy in charge of sport at city hall, said there was “no question” of installing fan zones. This is despite the city’s football team, Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), being owned by Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the Emir of Qatar since 2011.
Strasbourg has also decided not to screen the World Cup. “It is impossible for us not to listen to the numerous alerts from NGOs denouncing the abuse and exploitation of immigrant workers. Thousands of foreign workers have died on the building sites, it’s unbearable,” the city’s ecologist mayor, Jeanne Barseghian, told 20 Minutes.
”Strasbourg, the European capital and seat of the European court of human rights, cannot decently condone these abuses, cannot turn a blind eye when human rights are being flouted in this way,” she added.
Pierre Hurmic, the ecologist mayor of Bordeaux, said screening the World Cup and setting up fan zones would make the city an “accomplice to this sporting event which represents all the humanitarian, ecological and sporting aberrations”.
Eric Cantona, the former French international and Manchester United footballer, is also boycotting the World Cup.
“I will not watch a single match of this World Cup. This will cost me because since I was a kid it’s been an event that I love, that I look forward to and that I watch with passion. But let’s be honest with ourselves. This World Cup makes no sense. The only meaning of this event, as we all know, is money,” he wrote.
In a communique at the end of last month, the French Football Federation responded to criticism of its “deafening silence” over the forced labour and deaths of migrant workers at World Cup sites. It said the “campaign of stigmatisation” of Qatar was to be “deplored” and that it had defended “human rights and other essential causes on a daily basis”.
“Taking part in the World Cup doesn’t mean closing one’s eyes and supporting (abuse),” it wrote. The FFF claimed to have “implemented various verification measures concerning the respect of social rights and the application of respectful working conditions at the French team’s base camp” in Qatar.
The FFF believes the World Cup has brought progress to Qatar. “Even if the reality on the ground is not perfect, this progress is undeniable and positive,” it said.
Laurent Bodin, an opinion writer for L’Alsace newspaper, wrote: “The call to boycott is legitimate … but it’s a bit late.”
He added: “Such behaviour cannot be selective. Those calling for screens to be turned off during the World Cup should stop following the news of Paris Saint-Germain, which is financed by Qatar, and many other clubs for which the state-owned airline, Qatar Airways, is a major sponsor.
“The damage is done because the competition will take place.”