Macron defends World Cup trip amid Qatar graft scandal

France's President Emmanuel Macron delivers a press conference at the end of the European Council Summit in Brussels, on December 15, 2022. PHOTO / AFP

What you need to know:

  • Macron watched France's semi-final victory over Morocco before flying to Brussels overnight to attend an EU summit

President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday stood by his decision to travel to Qatar to support France's World Cup team, despite allegations linking the Gulf monarchy to corruption in the European Parliament.

Macron watched France's semi-final victory over Morocco before flying to Brussels overnight to attend an EU summit.

Belgian police investigating allegations that Qatar has been paying bribes to European politicians have arrested an MEP and three associates and charged them with corruption. 

Qatar denies any wrongdoing.

"I'm totally comfortable with it," Macron told reporters in Brussels who asked about the trip. "Four years ago I backed the French team in Russia, and I'm backing them in Qatar."

Macron plans to return to Doha on Sunday to watch France play Argentina in the World Cup final.

Ahead of the tournament, Qatar's labour laws and treatment of migrant labourers came under scrutiny as well as the number of deaths on World Cup-linked building sites. 

That led to calls to boycott the competition in France, including from French football legend Eric Cantona. Cities such as Paris said they would not show matches on public screens. 

"There was a lot of discussion with people saying 'I'm not going to follow it, I'll boycott it on television', but the figures are there," Macron said.

TV viewing figures showed more than 20 million people in France watched Les Bleus beat Morocco 2-0 on Wednesday night, almost a third of the population.

Macron's trip to Qatar, which saw him sit in the VIP enclosure and then join the victorious team in the dressing room afterwards, drew criticism from his domestic opponents.

Some seized on his praise for Qatar after the game, when he said the Gulf monarchy was organising the cup "very well".

"The compliments for Qatar at the same time as a serious case of corruption has exploded in Europe's institutions seem to me to be particularly inappropriate," far-right leader Marine Le Pen said.

 Politics in sport 
Leading French Greens party MP Sandrine Rousseau said she was shocked not by Macron's presence in Qatar but "by the fact that he has never had the slightest critical thing to say about this World Cup."

Left-wing MP Mathilde Panot called it "indecent that Emmanuel Macron and his government give their approval for this World Cup".

The 44-year-old head of state had argued that "we must not politicise sport" before the competition.

France's Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera wore a sweater with rainbow-coloured sleeves to France's quarter-final game on Saturday in a message of support for gay rights. 

The European Parliament, whose president Roberta Metsola declared the alleged bribes to MEPs as an attack on Europe's democracy, will vote on a motion Thursday that could bar Qatari lobbyists from its premises.

Belgian police seized 1.5 million euros in cash last week and arrested a senior MEP and former European Parliament vice president, Eva Kaili.

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