BAFFLED, shaken and finally repelled, the French have watched aghast at the existential drama that unfolded this week in South Africa, on the pitch and off it. World Cup winners in 1998, France were eliminated from this year’s tournament without winning a single game, and flew home in disgrace. But it was the team’s performance off the pitch that so appalled the French, described by the sports minister, Roselyne Bachelot, as a “moral disaster” that had “tarnished the image of France”.
This article was prepared by the Islam in Europe blog - islamineurope.blogspot.com
The fiasco began with a dressing-room row, in which a star player, Nicolas Anelka, yelled insults at Raymond Domenech, the coach. The French Football Federation sent Mr Anelka home, prompting a mutiny by the players, who refused to train for the next match. As recriminations flew, the captain, Patrice Evra, said that the problem was not Mr Anelka but the mole who leaked the row. The unloved Mr Domenech called the players “imbeciles”. Players and staff rowed in front of the cameras. President Nicolas Sarkozy even held a crisis meeting in response.
The affair has provoked much agonised introspection. Aime Jacquet, the victorious 1998 coach, said he was “ashamed”, describing the team as “the laughing stock of the world”. Le Monde, the bible of the Paris intellectual, described the team as “a mirror of French society today. Dominated by tormented egos and star salaries, cut off from the reality of the country and their fans, split into clans”. Bernard Kouchner, the foreign minister, called it “an appalling soap opera”. Jacques Attali, an economic adviser to the president, hoped that the affair would “act as a wake-up call” and show the French they could no longer “be satisfied with past glories…glory is the worst enemy of power, and nostalgia the worst poison for the future.”
The debacle, and the reaction to it, says as much about French neuroses as it does about football. First, there is the prickly matter of race and religion. Most of the French squad are black, and many are Muslim, including Mr Anelka, who is a convert to Islam, as is Franck Ribery, who is white. The 1998 triumph was hailed at the time as a turning point: the country finally recognising, and celebrating, its multicultural make-up. Since then, between banlieue riots and talk of burqa bans, France has struggled to integrate its minorities. (Of the 23-man Algerian squad, 17 are French-born.) The team seems to reflect these tensions, with rumours of tribal divisions. Sensitivities are so acute that to criticise the players’ values, discipline or team spirit—one philosopher called them “a gang of yobs with the morals of the mafia”—is to be accused of racism.
Source: The Economist