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The conundrum of Western relations with Qatar

World cup sparks concerns from human rights, risks to foreigners and environmental impact.

Lille, Marseille, Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Reims, and now Paris are all banning so-called ‘fan zones’ from being organised in their cities that would allow residents to watch the World Cup on giant screens in public spaces; citing human rights and environmental objections to the sports event in Qatar. The cities’ mayors have stated that celebrating the World Cup in Doha would be nonsensical given reports that some 6,500 migrant workers died during construction of sporting venues, and considering the carbon footprint generated from hosting football matches in air-conditioned stadiums in the desert.

Radha Stirling, CEO of Detained in Doha, points out that the mayors’ stance highlights the conundrum of Europe’s relationship with the Gulf, “They are right to protest human rights abuses in Qatar, particularly the deplorable conditions of migrant workers. The environmental concerns, as well, are justified; the carbon footprint of the World Cup in Doha is anticipated to reach 3.6 million tonnes of CO2 output,” Stirling explains, “But just a week ago, France signed a new $1.5 billion natural gas agreement with Qatar, which followed another $2 billion agreement in June. French FDI into Qatar has tripled over the past decade, there are around 120 French companies registered in Qatar, and Qatar owns roughly $25 billion worth of assets in France.

“This degree of economic entanglement dulls the impact of French protestations about human rights. Qatar, and other countries in the region with similarly dismal human rights records, see that such protests are never accompanied by consequences; the money, oil and gas, keep flowing regardless. France and Europe’s economic ties with the Gulf could potentially be used as leverage to push for reforms, but what we see happening is the opposite. The financial interests between the EU and the Gulf are actually neutralising Western criticism.

“The war in Ukraine, and the Western sanctions against Russia have only further increased Europe’s energy vulnerability, causing it to take an even more muted approach to the despotic regimes in the Gulf. Denying French citizens the enjoyment of a World Cup block party will have no impact on Qatar. In the final analysis, France, Europe, and the collective West are subsidising Qatar and their human rights abuses every day. Half of the carbon emissions associated with the World Cup will be caused by Westerners flying to Doha; a big screen TV in a Marseille public square would be inconsequential. Symbolic protest is meaningless when practical economic collaboration is ongoing.”


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