Qatar 2022, France’s ‘I wish but I can’t’ on rights

For now, the French national team has bowed to Fifa’s diktats, controversies ‘at home’

I would but I can not. France, whose Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789 establishes the freedom and equality of men as a principle of the Republic, hesitates to take a clear position in Qatar. Always proudly, at least in words, in defense of fundamental human rights, France at the World Cup agreed to bow to Fifa’s diktats.

A complaisant attitude that fueled controversy in France especially after the German national team posed for the usual photo, before the opening match against Japan, with their hand in front of their mouth to protest against the International Federation which prevented the captains to wear the rainbow band for LGBTQ+ rights, after England took one knee and after the courageous gesture of more than half of Iran’s players who, in solidarity with their own people protesting against the regime in Tehran, refused to sing the anthem.

The French sports minister, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra explained, responding to the criticisms shortly before the opening match against Australia, that “the competition has just begun” and that the French national team “would have expressed things” by recalling “the footballers’ attachment to values” and their commitment against all forms of discrimination.

In the same line as the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron who in recent days has affirmed that we must not “politicise sport”, the minister believes that “sport must not be the subject of political claims and useless political controversies”. Fifa’s decision, which banned the band in support of the Lgbtq+ community, “will continue to flow rivers of ink and yes I would have liked there to be a space of full freedom” but, he underlined speaking to the microphones of a French TV channel, “there are still spaces of freedom in which our national team can continue to express its commitment to human rights, the Germans have shown it”.

Oudéa-Castéra recalled the letter from the national team players in which they expressed their commitment to human rights, ecological transition and financial support to some NGOs that defend human rights. “There are still weeks ahead of us in which players will be able to express themselves, use these spaces of freedom to convey their messages. They have these values. They belong to a country that holds them high and it is important that they are their representatives.”

Meanwhile in France, despite the French certainly not boycotting the World Cup given that over 12.5 million viewers watched the debut match of the national team against Australia, the controversy continues. For the French cartoonist and director, Riad Sattouf “this debate in France and in the national team is incomprehensible. It’s a shame”. Of course “I would have worn the armband. The world championship is an important sounding board, it was the right occasion to make a gesture”, he explained to the microphones of Quotidien on Tmc.

In recent days, the secretary of the French Socialist Party Olivier Faure affirmed that “it was FIFA that deserved a red card for its pressure against those who recall the universality of human rights”. The exponent of the extreme left Manon Aubry (La France insoumise) who in recent days brought the armband to the European Parliament had explained that “despite what Macron thinks, sport is political and human rights violations in Qatar are a scandal “.

During Question Time at the Assemblée Nationale (the French Chamber of Deputies), Green exponent Sandrine Rousseau controversially asked Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin “whether the French police forces mobilized in Qatar during the World Cup will ensure the safety of the LGBT people present on the spot? Will they protect them from homophobia in Qatar?”.

Darmanin, answering the question, explained that “the 225 members of the police forces present in Qatar are dealing with French citizens, with the anti-drone policy for the security of the World Cup, to prepare for the 2023 Rugby World Cup in France “, and to protect the French national team or fans. They do not interfere in maintaining order in Qatar and defending law enforcement in Qatar.” (by Emmanuel Cazalé)