Former France idol Eric Cantona has added his voice to the growing wave of criticism of FIFA's vote to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.
A day after world football’s governing body was thrown into turmoil when its own chief investigator Michael Garcia slammed a report exonerating Qatar and Russia of any wrongdoing in their World Cup bids as a misinterpretation of his findings, Cantona gave his own view on the controversy.
In an exclusive interview with AFP, the one-time Manchester United idol who is carving out a successful second career as an actor, called the decision to award the 2022 tournament to Qatar “a mistake”.
Qatar, he said 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,” Cantona explained.
“When they gave the (1994) World Cup to the United States, there was great potential there, with the Mexican and South American immigration, to develop football.
“But what is there that can be done in Qatar? How many people live in Qatar?”
The tiny gas-rich emirate 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.
“It is a very wealthy country which has bought itself a World Cup.”
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.
Garcia, a former New York federal prosecutor, spent 18 months investigating the controversial World Cup race that ended with the selection of Russia for 2018 and Qatar for 2022.
His 350-page report, handed to FIFA on September 5, summed up an investigation that involved interviewing more than 75 witnesses and compiling a dossier with more than 200,000 pages and audio interviews.
But he dismissed the published version as “incomplete and erroneous” and promised to appeal to FIFA’s appeals body.
Hassan al-Thawadi, secretary-general of the Qatar 2022 organising committee, told AFP: “We were confident that any impartial investigation was to show that our record was clean and contains no irregularities.”