A French ruling party MP was forced into an embarrassing raid on Friday after suggesting the construction of the FIFA World Cup was no more dangerous to workers’ lives than that of the Eiffel Tower, a Parisian landmark a few years ago. is 135 years old.
The French government has been criticized for signing an agreement with Doha to secure the Cup, sending 220 experts, including special forces, anti-drone troops, demining units and explosives search teams.
Opposition MPs reacted angrily to the deal, with some calling the air-conditioned stadiums an “ecological scandal”, and others saying workers employed to build World Cup infrastructure – mostly foreigners – were treated “virtually like slaves”.
Asked about the outcry on French radio, Karl Olive, a deputy from President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party, called the criticism “confused” and unexpectedly brought the famous Eiffel Tower into the debate.
“If you want to go there, then you have to remember that more than 300 people died building the Eiffel Tower,” he told France Info on Friday.
In a few hours, however, he backtracked, admitting on Twitter that the “300 people I mentioned (370 exactly) did not die during the construction of the Eiffel Tower”.
According to the operators of the Eiffel Tower, there were “no injuries or deaths” during the two years, two months and five days of its construction between 1887 and 1889.
Eiffel Tower experts estimate that around 370 people have died since the Tower was built, mostly due to suicides and accidents in the famous edifice.
“It was a bad example,” Olive acknowledged. “I am sorry.”
But the apology did little to stem the outrage over his remarks, particularly from the left.
“It’s shameful,” fumed Thomas Portes, an MP for the far-left France Insoumise party, saying that Olive had “defended Qatar with false figures and a mind-blowing comparison with the Eiffel Tower.”
Portes added: “This World Cup is built on a pile of corpses.”
Facing international criticism for its treatment of workers, Doha promised that improving conditions for foreign workers would be a “key legacy” of the World Cup.
In addition to dealing with foreign hires in multi-billion dollar infrastructure projects, Qatar is also coming under scrutiny for its record on 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, Fatma Al-Nuaimi, chief spokeswoman for the organizing committee, told AFP in May.