Society

Racism In French Soccer: Dissecting A National Scandal

Once the emblem of a harmonious and multicultural France, the French national soccer team is currently engulfed in a scandal that mirrors wider racism inside (and outside) the sport.

Success for Zidane, son of Algerian immigrants, once fed wider optimism about French multiculturalism. (Stefo)
Success for Zidane, son of Algerian immigrants, once fed wider optimism about French multiculturalism. (Stefo)
Pascal Blanchard and Yvan Gastaut

PARIS - A race-quota scandal gripping France's top soccer establishment began on April 28 when investigative French website Mediapart published controversial comments from the transcript of a November 8, 2010 meeting of some of the country's top soccer officials. The comments appear to call for 30 percent quotas capping young black and Arab players at top soccer academies.

A chain of events has ensued in recent days: attempts at explanation by national coach Laurent Blanc who was at the meeting, sanctions against an official of the French Football Federation (FFF), a thorough investigation by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, and public demands for Blanc's resignation.

(On Sunday, in an interview with the Journal du Dimanche newspaper, Blanc's teammate on the 1998 World Cup champion national team, Zinédine Zidane – a French sporting legend who is of Algerian descent – defended the national coach from accusations of racism.)

Still, it seems that the national and multicultural pride that surrounded that 1998 team, known as "black-blanc-beur" (black, white, Arab) may be over for good. Yet is this really a surprise?

All the ingredients necessary for a major implosion were in the offing: a French national soccer body without anyone of African descent since the December resignation of Lilian Thuram, the media digging into the topic, and the reaction of a public obsessed by an imaginary connection between soccer and "national identity."

There is no disputing the historical weight of the July 12, 1998 victory, prolonged by the success of the 2000 European Championship. But its perfect antithesis was destined to occur at the 2010 World Cup, where France was eliminated in a shameful display of infighting, insubordination and awful performances on the pitch. The current affair is one of the more visible consequences of that fiasco.

Will the "multicultural" generation give way to an "all-white" generation?

Of course, except for the final phase of the 2006 World Cup, the spiral of catastrophic results is the driving force behind this failure. This debacle reveals losses and contradictions, all the while feeding an anxiety that adversely affects the French national mood.

But that's not all. After the comments of Jean-Marie Le Pen at the 1996 European Championships, and other personalities who stigmatized the team as "black, black, black," a standard racism began to seep into the sport concerning the ubiquity of "blacks' (in reality, "Muslims," as many point out) on the French national team.

Despite the progress of campaigns fighting racism, a fear of "an invasion" is voiced as if it's no big deal. Indeed, French soccer officials are completely in tune with current sentiment.

Like society at large, those who shape the destiny of French soccer prove themselves incapable of managing diversity. They remain deaf to the phenomena of multiple identities, a consequence of a colonial past and a still neglected history of immigration. Invisible within certain sectors of public life, "Blacks' and "second-generation Africans' are everywhere on the fields of sports, nearly the sole place of social success for many youth in our neighborhoods.

This reality is nothing new. Ever since its beginnings, soccer discovered individuals who were either immigrants or from colonies, thanks to the eyes of French scouts. These include Gusti Jordan, a naturalized Austrian, Larbi Ben Barek, nicknamed "The Black Pearl of Casablanca," and Michel Platini, a son of Italian immigrants and current president of UEFA, European soccer's governing board.

So many names preceded the generation of Zinédine Zidane and Lilian Thuram, the most popular and talented of Les Bleus national players to this day. Had there been quotas, how many would have made a mark on history? The last time quotas were enforced was in Algeria in the 1930s for the North African players on the colonial teams. Dual nationality exists today as a fruit of history!

If the choices left for the dual-nationals bother the leaders now, they should recall that, when it was convenient for French soccer, it was barely mentioned at all…and that simply the "best" played for France. In colonial times, we were more than happy to count on several Blacks, Arabs, and pied-noirs Algerian-born French to make shine an otherwise pale French soccer team.

Convenient and soothing speeches of "All Blue, All United" do not help anyone deal with the difficulties. Far from being a racism-free bubble, soccer is proving to be a source of division, causing everyone to fall back to defending their own. For these gentlemen, a Black, an Arab, and an Asian are not real "French," even if they were born in France. If this frame of mind could "offend some sensibilities," it also reveals the long path left toward de-colonizing our imaginations. The foul is severe, gentlemen: Red Card!

photo - Stefo

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.

[*Italian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."

🇸🇩💥  IN OTHER NEWS

Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world! info@worldcrunch.com!

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