About twelve years ago, France was giving itself a new reputation. Cheese, onion and the baguettes, the very symbols of frenchness were replaced by football and the French national team: “Les bleus”. What a nice passport it was at the time for all the French citizens who happened to be travelling abroad. I remember in 2001 being the curiosity of the younger generation in the city of Exeter in England. At the time I used to work in a high school as a French language assistant. During the breaks the children of the school would often come to me and ask me to join them in their football games.
It was also difficult for them to understand that football was not my sport and that I was rather basketball. In 2000 France was to win the European Football Cup, thus strengthening again the view point that France and football made one entity. Back in France I could notice the impact of those two victories on the French society as a whole. The French football team was characterised by its multi-coloured aspect, with more black football players than white ones. The “marseillais” Zinedine Zidane who was born some thirty years ago from Algerian parents had become the first French ambassador abroad; nevertheless, regarding the fight against racism or the social advancement of ethnic minorities within the French society, the victories of 1998 and 2000 revealed themselves of no avail.
Yet, throughout the country, in all school playgrounds, every boy, no matter their social, ethnic or religious back ground, dreamed of the French national football team. Football and other sports then appeared as the gateway for any coloured child willing to improve his or her condition in life.
During the last decade, the importance of football in France certainly had some positive economic repercussions on society; however, socially speaking, it appeared as a ramping plague alienating from education the most deprived children from the working class districts of Paris and its region. Today, the parents in the poor districts often appear more concerned with a possible sportive career of their children than with their marks at school. Football, more than school, is seen by many French parents as the only profitable investment when it comes to the future of their children. Working in a high school of the nineteenth district of Paris, I personally had the chance to observe the phenomenon.
So no one should be surprised if I say today thank you to the French national football team. In South Africa this year the French football myth was more than destroyed. The national team is today completely crashed and ruined and I am quite satisfied with this. It is at its lowest level ever. In South Africa, this year, French football players have been indeed the clowns of the tournament. They were kicked out without even winning one single match
in three matches. The behaviour and attitude of the players as well as that of the coaching staff was much criticised. But what if the malaise, misunderstanding and division within the French national football team was the just the reflection of a wider division and malaise within the French larger society? With the intervention
of the French media and politicians, there is no doubt that the crisis within the national team has become a state affair that will, for sure, fill
the headlines of the French newspapers in the weeks to come.
Let’s just hope that in the deprived districts, the French football rout will serve to make people stop thinking that sports rather than school are the gateway to social and economic advancement.