France to provide Qatar World Cup security officers despite calls for boycott

France’s decision to send officers to Qatar to help with security for the impending FIFA World Cup has raised eyebrows amid widespread calls to boycott the event for human rights abuses. The deployment of an international force – with security from the US, UK, Turkey and elsewhere – also highlights the logistical and security challenges of hosting FIFA’s flagship tournament. in the tiny Gulf state.

The month-long soccer extravaganza, which opens in Doha on November 20, grabbed headlines in France this week as Paris and other major cities announced they would not erect the screens usual giants to broadcast the matches in protest at the environmental impact of the tournament and the widely documented rights abuses during Qatar’s preparations for the event.

As talks of a boycott grew, the French Interior Ministry quietly acknowledged that it was sending “about 220” gendarmes and police to Qatar to help secure the tournament, confirming a report released Wednesday by the satirical investigative weekly. The chained Duck.

An image of the 2022 FIFA World Cup trophy adorns a building in the Qatari capital Doha on August 16, 2022. © Mustafa Abumunes, AFP

The announcement was markedly understated for a country used to playing up its “crowd management” expertise. And it came just months after that expertise was called into question when footage emerged of French police gassing and spraying entire families – including children – amid chaotic scenes during the football final of the Champions League near Paris in May, prompting an apology from UEFA.

As a popular football magazine So walk joked“Has anyone thought to show the Qatari footage of the Champions League final?”

“Air-conditioned cemeteries”

The deployment of French forces in Qatar is part of a security partnership signed last year and led by the French Parliament on August 4 following heated debates in the National Assembly.

The deal’s sponsors described it as a much-needed vote of confidence in French police following the Champions League final fiasco in May. They pointed to the strategic and financial benefits of France’s burgeoning relationship with the gas-rich Gulf state, which spent 11.1 billion euros on French weaponry between 2011 and 2020.

Citing investigations by advocacy groups, opposition lawmakers said more than 6,500 migrant workers had died in Qatar during the same period, including construction workers hired to build stadiums and other World Cup infrastructure. They pointed to the ethical implications of sending French officers to protect the country’s “air-conditioned cemeteries”, referring to the tournament’s brand new facilities.

There were also concerns about possible restrictions female officers might face upon arriving in the deeply conservative emirate. “And our policewomen? a lawmaker repeatedly asked, questioning Qatar’s record on women’s rights.

In his first report, The chained Duck declared that there would be no women among the French forces heading for Qatar. Questioned on this subject by FRANCE 24, the Ministry of the Interior indicated that the contingent of French gendarmes and police officers would include female officers, without specifying their number or their functions.

Experts in drones and sniffer dogs

The ministry stressed that the decision to deploy French security personnel followed a “request from the Qatari authorities” and would help ensure the safety of supporters, including French nationals. French officers would provide “high-level expertise and specialized logistical support”, the ministry added.

Gendarmes specializing in anti-drone police will make up the bulk of the force, which will also include deminers, sniffer dogs, members of the GIGN’s elite anti-terrorist unit and a dozen police officers specializing in the fight against the football hooliganism.

The agreement signed with Doha stipulates that all expenses, including bonuses, will be covered by the host country. It also clarifies the legal status of French officers operating on Qatari soil, who will be subject to local laws but “will in no case be liable to capital punishment”.

The “spatial dynamics” of Qatar

The French contingent in Qatar will be part of a multinational security presence comprising personnel from various countries and continents, including a large military component.

With a population of less than 3 million – of which only 380,000 are Qatari nationals – the Gulf state faces a staff shortage as it prepares for the World Cup. According to projections, it should welcome up to 1.5 million fans, an influx equivalent to 50% of its population.

The “spatial dynamics” of the tournament will be particularly challenging, said Joel Rookwood, lecturer in sports management at University College Dublin, noting that the World Cup is taking place in the most compact setting ever, with the eight stadiums located within a 50-kilometre radius of the capital Doha.

“Recent World Cups have all been spread over large geographical areas, which has made it easier for fans to be separated,” he said. “In this case, you will have a large number of fans concentrated in relatively confined spaces. Everyone will fly to Doha, including fans from countries with conflicting international relations. It will be difficult to separate them. »

A multinational force

According to a Reuters report, Qatar’s security operation will be bolstered by civilians drafted into compulsory military service and diplomats brought in from abroad. Conscripts train to manage stadium security queues, search fans and detect alcohol, drugs or weapons concealed in ponytails, jacket liners or even fake bellies , according to the report, citing training materials.

In addition to the French officers, the security operation will be reinforced by American and Italian personnel. The UK, whose forces regularly carry out exercises with their Qatari counterparts, has also confirmed the deployment of Royal Navy and Royal Air Force units to help support counter-terrorism efforts.

Turkey on Wednesday approved the deployment of 250 troops and a small warship to Qatar for six months to help maintain security during the World Cup. The troops will add to the roughly 3,000 riot police that Ankara has already promised to send to its Gulf ally to help bolster security at stadiums and hotels.

Last month, Pakistan’s cabinet approved a draft agreement allowing the government to donate troops for the tournament. Morocco also supported sending police reinforcements to Qatar, with local media reports that several thousand officers could be deployed.

Fans beware

Flawless coordination between the different forces will be crucial for the success of the operation. Another concern is “how fans in different parts of the world will relate to local customs,” Rookwood said – and how strictly Qatar’s laws will be enforced.

Under the country’s legal code, freedom of expression is restricted, homosexuality is illegal and sex outside marriage is prohibited. Public drunkenness can result in a prison sentence of up to six months, and certain things considered benign elsewhere – such as public displays of affection or the wearing of revealing clothing – can be grounds for arrest.

In briefings to foreign police last month, Qatari officials suggested fans caught committing petty crimes would escape prosecution under plans drawn up by local authorities. But organizers have yet to clarify their approach to policing, so many embassies have already warned fans they could be punished for behavior that would be tolerated elsewhere.

“Remember that while you are in Qatar, you are subject to local laws,” Morgan Cassell, a diplomat at the US Embassy in Doha, warned in a YouTube video in September.

“Arguing or insulting others in public can lead to arrest. Activities such as protests, religious proselytizing, advocacy of atheism, and criticism of the government of Qatar or the religion of Islam can be criminally prosecuted here. This also applies to your social media posts.