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Why French cities are refusing to show World Cup games on giant public screens

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The FIFA Men's World Cup, the most widely watched sporting event on the planet, begins November 20 in Qatar. France is the defending champ, but many French cities are refusing to broadcast the games on giant public screens. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley tells us why.

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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: When France beat Croatia to win the 2018 World Cup held in Russia, a hundred thousand fans went wild back in Paris under the Eiffel Tower in an official fan zone. But this year, Paris and other French cities like Bordeaux, Strasbourg, Lille and Marseille say they won't promote the World Cup in public fan zones to protest Qatar's human rights and climate violations.

ERIC PIOLLE: My name is Eric Piolle, and I'm the mayor of Grenoble.

BEARDSLEY: Grenoble's mayor says his city wants no connection to a World Cup where more than 6,000 workers died building stadiums that are air-conditioned. He says the canceling of fan zones is raising public consciousness.

PIOLLE: We had the same year Winter Olympics and the World Cup in a place where you should not have large events, for both human rights and environmental reasons.

BEARDSLEY: Piolle is referring to the Beijing Winter Olympics, where the snow had to be manufactured, and for the first time the World Cup changed seasons, moving from summer to late fall due to Qatar's intense heat.

PIOLLE: We see here a momentum where even people connected to sport and to football start to say that we cannot continue like this.

BEARDSLEY: Jean-Baptiste Guegan is a specialist in geopolitics and sport. He says the mostly leftist and green mayors doing this are talking a noble game, but their actions will have no impact whatsoever on Qatar.

JEAN-BAPTISTE GUEGAN: (Through interpreter) The reality is these fan zones are very expensive at a time when inflation and the price of electricity is skyrocketing. They're also extremely difficult to secure, so it suits to cancel them.

BEARDSLEY: Guegan notes that Paris officials boycotting the Qatar Cup are often the very ones asking for tickets to see Paris Saint-Germain, a team owned by Qatar. But he admits the World Cup choice of Qatar does pose a huge problem for the sports world. Not a single board member of the International Football Federation, or FIFA, that chose the country in 2010 remains. They all left amidst unrelated corruption scandals.

JEAN COLOMBE: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "It's too late now," says Jean Colombe. "We should have boycotted before and said we refuse to go to Qatar." But Lonni Lombi says this debate has made him think.

LONNI LOMBI: (Speaking French).

BEARDSLEY: "When you learn how many people died building these stadiums, you feel revolted," he says. "It's not possible. It seems that money comes before everything." And Lombi says that takes all the joy out of the World Cup.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.