FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

French Soccer and the Future of Europe

The story of the 2006 World Cup has been the resurrection of France. After a lackluster performance in its first two games, the French team shocked the football watching world–otherwise known as “the world”–by upsetting Spain and then dethroning Brazil, the second time in three World Cups the French have knocked off the global kings of “the beautiful game.”

While hundreds of thousands of people celebrated on the Champs-Elysées following France’s stunning turn-around, not everyone was feeling the joy. Proud racist and leader of the ultra-right wing National Front, Jean-Marie Le Pen, could not resist defiling the moment. Le Pen decried France’s multi-ethnic team as unrepresentative of French society, saying that France “cannot recognize itself in the national side,” and “maybe the coach exaggerated the proportion of players of color and should have been a bit more careful.”

Le Pen and others of his ilk do not recognize themselves in a team whose leader is of Algerian descent–Zinedine Zidane–and whose most feared striker is black–Thierry Henry. Le Pen used to torture Algerians for the French military in the 1950s and it turns his stomach that his team reflects France’s (and Europe’s) colonial past, with players from Cameroon, Guadalupe, Senegal, Congo, Algeria, and Benin among other countries.

Le Pen’s efforts to use the pitch as a battleground for his Neanderthal views about immigration and Islam have not gone unanswered. After his latest comments, France midfielder Lilian Thuram said, “Clearly, he is unaware that there are Frenchmen who are black, Frenchmen who are white, Frenchmen who are brown. I think that reflects particularly badly on a man who has aspirations to be president of France but yet clearly doesn’t know anything about French history or society…. That’s pretty serious. He’s the type of person who’d turn on the television and see the American basketball team and wonder: ‘Hold on, there are black people playing for America? What’s going on?'”

Thuram went on to say, “When we take to the field, we do so as Frenchmen. All of us. When people were celebrating our win, they were celebrating us as Frenchmen, not black men or white men. It doesn’t matter if we’re black or not, because we’re French. I’ve just got one thing to say to Jean Marie Le Pen. The French team are all very, very proud to be French. If he’s got a problem with us, that’s down to him but we are proud to represent this country. So Vive la France, but the true France. Not the France that he wants.” In addition, the immensely talented Henry has started an antiracist campaign called Stand Up Speak Up. Henry pushed his sponsor Nike to produce black and white intertwined armbands that demonstrate a commitment against racism. So far, they have sold more than five million. “That’s important in making the very real point that racism is a problem for everyone, a collective ailment,” Henry said to Time Magazine. “It shows that people of all colors, even adversaries on the pitch, are banding together in this, because we’re all suffering from it together.”

Henry’s campaign has resonance because Le Pen does not have the market cornered on racism in the sport. So-called fans, throwing banana peels and peanuts at star players of African descent, have plagued European soccer this past season. For much of the World Cup, such assaults did not occur. But before the June 27th game against Spain, the French coach, Raymond Domenech, said Spanish fans were “making monkey chants” as the French team left their bus. The incident evoked memories of an outrageous racist diatribe against Thierry Henry delivered by Spanish coach Luis Aragones to “inspire” his team before a match against France a couple years ago. When Franch defeated Spain last week, it was more just desserts for Aragones and another bitter pill for Le Pen.

Thuram and Henry are continuing a proud tradition of recent years, as players from “Les Bleus,” as the national team is called, have consistently spoken out against those like Le Pen who cannot countenance a non-white French team. Le Pen made headlines before the 1998 World Cup for saying that France’s multi-ethnic team was “artificial,” and was mortified when Zidane and Henry did something no previous Frenchmen had accomplished-won the World Cup, a triumph that was widely celebrated as a victory for multiculturalism. While Le Pen was campaigning in the presidential elections of 2002, the French team issued a statement denouncing the politics of the National Front. Delivered by Ghanaian-born captain Marcel Desailly, the statement read: “The players in the French team, from diverse origins . . . are unanimous in condemning resurgent ideas of racism and exclusion.” Desailly’s statement further condemned “attitudes that endanger democracy and freedom as intolerable and indefensible, particularly in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural France.” Zidane amplified this message, calling for a huge vote against Le Pen.

It is paradoxical that a victory by France, a country with as grisly a colonial past as any European power, could be a cause for celebration by immigrants and fighters for social justice. But as last year’s “suburb” riots and mass youth demonstrations have shown, there is a battle over the future of French politics and by extension, the future of Europe. Anti-Arab and Moslem sentiment is by no means monopolized by Le Pen and his cronies on the far right. Whether or not they defeat Italy for the title, the astonishing success of France’s multi-ethnic team presents another vision for the future of the continent.

Dave Zirin is the author of “‘What’s My name Fool?’: Sports and Resistance in the United States.” Contact him at whatsmynamefool2005@yahoo.com.

John Cox is an assistant History professor at Florida Gulf Coast University.

 

 

More articles by:

January 16, 2019
Patrick Bond
Jim Yong Kim’s Mixed Messages to the World Bank and the World
John Grant
Joe Biden, Crime Fighter from Hell
Alvaro Huerta
Brief History Notes on Mexican Immigration to the U.S.
Kenneth Surin
A Great Speaker of the UK’s House of Commons
Elizabeth Henderson
Why Sustainable Agriculture Should Support a Green New Deal
Binoy Kampmark
Trump, Bolton and the Syrian Confusion
Jeff Mackler
Trump’s Syria Exit Tweet Provokes Washington Panic
Barbara Nimri Aziz
How Long Can Nepal Blame Others for Its Woes?
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: When Just One Man Says, “No”
Cesar Chelala
Violence Against Women: A Pandemic No Longer Hidden
Kim C. Domenico
To Make a Vineyard of the Curse: Fate, Fatalism and Freedom
Dave Lindorff
Criminalizing BDS Trashes Free Speech & Association
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: The Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party: Part Two
Edward Curtin
A Gentrified Little Town Goes to Pot
January 15, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
Refugees Are in the English Channel Because of Western Interventions in the Middle East
Howard Lisnoff
The Faux Political System by the Numbers
Lawrence Davidson
Amos Oz and the Real Israel
John W. Whitehead
Beware the Emergency State
John Laforge
Loudmouths against Nuclear Lawlessness
Myles Hoenig
Labor in the Age of Trump
Jeff Cohen
Mainstream Media Bias on 2020 Democratic Race Already in High Gear
Dean Baker
Will Paying for Kidneys Reduce the Transplant Wait List?
George Ochenski
Trump’s Wall and the Montana Senate’s Theater of the Absurd
Binoy Kampmark
Dances of Disinformation: the Partisan Politics of the Integrity Initiative
Glenn Sacks
On the Picket Lines: Los Angeles Teachers Go On Strike for First Time in 30 Years
Jonah Raskin
Love in a Cold War Climate
Andrew Stewart
The Green New Deal Must be Centered on African American and Indigenous Workers to Differentiate Itself From the Democratic Party
January 14, 2019
Kenn Orphan
The Tears of Justin Trudeau
Julia Stein
California Needs a 10-Year Green New Deal
Dean Baker
Declining Birth Rates: Is the US in Danger of Running Out of People?
Robert Fisk
The US Media has Lost One of Its Sanest Voices on Military Matters
Vijay Prashad
5.5 Million Women Build Their Wall
Nicky Reid
Lessons From Rojava
Ted Rall
Here is the Progressive Agenda
Robert Koehler
A Green Future is One Without War
Gary Leupp
The Chickens Come Home to Roost….in Northern Syria
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: “The Country Is Watching”
Sam Gordon
Who Are Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionists?
Weekend Edition
January 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Richard Moser
Neoliberalism: Free Market Fundamentalism or Corporate Power?
Paul Street
Bordering on Fascism: Scholars Reflect on Dangerous Times
Joseph Majerle III – Matthew Stevenson
Who or What Brought Down Dag Hammarskjöld?
Jeffrey St. Clair - Joshua Frank
How Tre Arrow Became America’s Most Wanted Environmental “Terrorist”
Andrew Levine
Dealbreakers: The Democrats, Trump and His Wall
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail