French MP withdraws over Qatar World Cup defence

Qatar has drawn criticism for its treatment of foreign workers

PARIS — An MP from France’s ruling party was forced into an embarrassing relegation on Friday after implying the construction for the World Cup was no more dangerous to workers’ lives than that of Paris’ landmark Eiffel Tower 135 years ago.

The French government has come under fire for signing a deal with Doha to ensure the security of the trophy and sending 220 experts including special forces, anti-drone troops, bomb disposal units and explosives search teams.

Opposition MPs reacted angrily to the deal, with some calling air-conditioned stadiums an “environmental scandal” and others saying workers employed to build World Cup infrastructure – mostly foreigners – were treated “virtually like slaves”.

When asked about the outcry on French radio, Karl Olive, an MP for President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance Party, called the criticism “confused” and unexpectedly brought the world-famous Eiffel Tower into the debate.

“If you want to go there, you should remember that more than 300 people died building the Eiffel Tower,” he told France Info on Friday.

However, within hours he backed down, admitting on Twitter that the “300 people I mentioned (370 to be precise) did not die during the construction of the Eiffel Tower.”

According to the Eiffel Tower’s operators, during the two years, two months, and five days of its construction between 1887 and 1889, there were “no injuries or deaths.”

Eiffel Tower experts estimate that around 370 people have died since the tower was built, mostly from suicides and accidents inside the iconic building.

“That was a bad example,” admitted Olive. “I am sorry.”

But the apology did little to stem outrage at his remarks, particularly from the left.

“It’s shameful,” said Thomas Portes, an MP for the far-left party France Unbowed, saying Olive “defended Qatar with false figures and an overwhelming comparison to the Eiffel Tower”.

Portes added: “This World Cup will be built on a pile of corpses”.

Amid international criticism for its treatment of workers, Doha has pledged that improved conditions for foreign workers would be an “important legacy” from the World Cup.

In addition to the treatment of foreign workers in the multi-billion infrastructure projects, Qatar is also under scrutiny for its performance in relation to women’s rights and the LGBT+ community.

Efforts to improve conditions will be extended to hospitality and other sectors that also depend on foreign workers, organizing committee spokeswoman Fatma Al-Nuaimi told AFP in May.

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