PARIS, France, Sep 7 – French football giants Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday faced accusations of failing to take climate change seriously, after coach Christophe Galtier and star Kylian Mbappe mocked a suggestion that they should take the train rather than private planes for short-haul travel.
Galtier and Mbappe were asked at a press conference on Monday whether they had discussed an offer from the state railway group SNCF to provide travel for them to away games.
Galtier initially smirked at the idea while Mbappe bent double in laughter over the suggestion — with the clip quickly going viral on social media.
“We had a chat with our travel organisers earlier to see if we can travel by sand-yacht,” Galtier replied sarcastically, referring to sail-powered beach buggies that are popular on some French beaches.
Politicians, campaigners and even the prime minister weighed in on Tuesday, condemning both men for being out-of-touch and arrogant at a time when Europe faces an energy crisis and spiralling temperatures linked to climate change.
“I think it’s important that they realise what world we live in, that they are aware that there is a climate crisis that is no longer a hypothesis about tomorrow but a reality today,” Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne told reporters while visiting a Paris police station.
Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire called Galtier’s response “inappropriate” while Paris’ left-wing mayor Anne Hidalgo tweeted: “It’s not on to answer stuff like that???? Wake up guys??? This is Paris.”
– Private jets –
The controversy began over the weekend when PSG notched up an easy 3-0 away victory against Nantes to stay top of Ligue 1 on their trip to the French city, which is 380 kilometres (240 miles) west of Paris but located on a high-speed train line.
The side — owned by an investment fund of major gas producer Qatar — boasted on social media that they had made the return trip with shirt sponsors Qatar Airways, but their travel choice was publicly questioned due to its carbon footprint.
“Paris-Nantes is less than two hours by TGV,” Alain Krakovitch, the head of SNCF’s TGV high-speed passenger trains, wrote on Twitter afterwards.
“I renew our proposal for a TGV offer adapted to your specific needs in line with our common interests — safety, speed, services and eco-mobility,” he added.
Speaking after PSG’s 2-1 victory Tuesday over Juventus in the Champions League, Galtier apologised for his remarks.
“Believe me when I say I am concerned about climate change and about our planet. I am aware of the responsibility we have,” Galtier told Canal Plus.
“It was a badly timed joke in bad taste and I regret it.”
The controversy comes against the background of a growing clamour in France from environmental campaigners for restrictions on private jet travel to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Pressure group Attac had on Friday pilloried PSG’s Argentinian star Lionel Messi for his use of private air travel.
“From June to August, Messi made 52 flights with his private jet, amounting to 1,502 tons of CO2 emissions. That’s as much as a single French person would be responsible for in 150 years,” it said.
Star French attacker Karim Benzema also faced criticism over the summer for posting a video from his holidays in Miami which flaunted his wealth — and carbon footprint — with sports cars, jet skis and motor boats.
Many teams in the top Spanish, Italian and English leagues, including Juventus and Liverpool, regularly travel by train.
– Role model? –
Communication experts said they were amazed at the insensitivity of the PSG manager’s reply on the same day that President Emmanuel Macron was urging French people to lower their air conditioning and heating to save electricity.
Europe faces an energy crunch this winter after Russia cut its gas deliveries to the continent.
The press conference behaviour was a rare faux pas for World Cup-winning posterboy Mbappe who has forged a reputation as a mature, socially-minded player despite his young age of just 23.
“I have no thoughts,” he replied in the press conference when asked for his view on the train travel option.
Contacted by AFP, his representatives declined to comment on Tuesday.
French climatologist Valerie Masson-Delmotte said she wanted Mbappe to set an example.
“What he says, what he does, these things have an influence far beyond what scientists might say or do, because he inspires so many people,” she told France Inter radio.