Cantona tackles French racism row, blasts Qatar World Cup
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Former football star Eric Cantona has slammed the decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar and addressed the latest racism row to rock French football in a wide-ranging interview with AFP.
The former France international and Manchester United idol added his voice to the growing wave of criticism of FIFA's decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar, saying the gas-rich emirate had effectively “bought” the cup.
The exclusive interview with AFP came a day after FIFA’s own chief investigator said a report exonerating Qatar and Russia of any wrongdoing in their respective World Cup bids was based on a misinterpretation of his findings.
Cantona, who is carving out a successful second career as an actor, said Qatar was just "a very wealthy country which has bought itself a World Cup".
"When you award the World Cup to a country, it is to develop football there," he explained.
"When they gave the  World Cup to the United States, there was great potential there, with the Mexican and South American immigration, to develop football,” said the man Manchester United fans affectionately call “The King”.
"But what is there that can be done in Qatar? How many people live in Qatar?"
Qatar has a population of around 2.2 million, the vast majority of them migrant workers, drawn from India, Nepal and other Asian and Arabic countries.
"When you are in a very small country, where you have to pay people to fill the stadiums, that isn't the point of it, as far as I'm concerned,” Cantona said.
On Thursday, FIFA published a report clearing Qatar and Russia of corruption and ruling out a re-vote for the tournaments despite widespread allegations of wrongdoing.
But FIFA's chief investigator, Michael Garcia, dismissed the report as an "incomplete and erroneous" presentation of his 18-month investigation into the case.
Comments on black players ‘clumsy’ but ‘serious’
The former Red Devil also weighed in on the latest racism row to have rocked French football, describing recent comments by Bordeaux coach Willy Sagnol as “clumsy” but “serious”.
Sagnol, another former France international, was forced to apologise earlier this month after he appeared to suggest African players lacked intelligence and discipline in an interview with a local newspaper.
The Bordeaux coach told Sud Ouest daily: "The advantage of the typical African player is that he is not expensive when you take him, he's generally ready to fight and he is powerful on the pitch. But football is not just that, it's also technique, intelligence, discipline."
The comments sparked a major row within French football, leading Sagnol’s former teammate Lilian Thuram, France's most-capped player, to rebuke him in public.
"Unfortunately there is always prejudice about people coming from Africa, black people. We always talk about their strength and never their intelligence,” Thuram said. “These comments only back-up such prejudice.”
In his interview with AFP, Cantona said he was willing to give the Bordeaux coach the benefit of doubt.
“He’s got seven or eight black players in his team, which he chooses, right?” Cantona said. “This proves he was above all clumsy. If all eleven players were white, then we should be asking questions.”
“King Eric” nonetheless described Sagnol’s words as “very serious”.
“I think that in general white people have a habit of thinking they are more intelligent than others,” he added.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)