World Cup: “There is class contempt for France”

LThe world of all controversies opens this Sunday in Qatar. Didier Deschamps’ team put the title won four years ago in Russia after a suffocating final against Croatia (4-2) at stake. The Azzurri, decimated by injuries, are far from being the big favourites. However, their entry into the competition on Tuesday in Al-Wakrah against Australia raises high expectations among the population.

François da Rocha Carneiro, historian specializing in the French team, author ofA history of France in crampons (Le Détour Editions, 2022), he tells in an interview with Point the story of the bond that unites the French and the national team.

Point : The French squad is eagerly awaited in Qatar following their world title win in Russia four years ago. Since when does the national team arouse so much popular interest?

Francois da Rocha Carneiro : We have to go back to the 80s. Shortly before this period, France were rather considered the world champions in friendlies. She was very good at winning when there was no stake. Everything changed, however, in 1982, at the World Cup in Spain. The Blues, led by coach Michel Hidalgo and his captain Michel Platini, cross the towers and go up to the semifinals. A feat. Ultimately they will bow to West Germany in a game as dramatized as possible in Seville. Two years later, the Blues will eventually win their first title, Euro 1984 organized in France.

So the real breakthrough is this famous Seville 82?

Perfectly, because from Sevilla, France are finally perceived as a team with the potential to win. There was certainly a feat in 1958 with a third place at the World Cup held in Sweden. But it is a bit like the tree that hides the forest: French football was not up to par and experienced the crisis especially in the 60s. A lot of work was then done in the 70s, in particular with the creation of a system of training, to straighten out of French football. That decade, AS Saint-Étienne’s epic run in the European Cup contributed to the emergence of popular interest in football. It was also in this period that the French increasingly acquired color televisions, from which they could now follow some matches of the Coupe de France and the French team.

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Residents of Ile-de-France have flocked to the Champs-Élysées following the World and European coronations of 1998, 2000 and 2018. This Parisian thoroughfare, however, is much sparser on May 8, July 14 and 11 november… Is French patriotism expressed by football?

We’ve made a habit of celebrating our football victories on the Champs-Élysées ever since AS Saint-Étienne celebrated their defeat in the 1976 Champions League final by walking down the famous Parisian thoroughfare. So I’m not sure we should overinterpret the effects of crowds on Victory Nights as the ultimate display of patriotism. I believe more in an identification effect. Patriotism is the love of the fatherland for the fatherland. But our French society is very colourful, with people having fathers from everywhere.

The French team is a reflection of this diversity. How do you explain that many French people of foreign origin prefer the national team of their parents’ country to the French national team?

I’ve just discussed this with my students, some of whom are concerned. There is an attachment that drives them to idealize the national team of their origins. This team, whether Portuguese, Algerian or not, seems to be one of the last anchor points to the country of origin. That doesn’t mean that you don’t also support France.

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Why some players are accused of not singing The Marseillaise ?

The story dates back to 1996. During a political rally, Jean-Marie Le Pen pointed to the players of the French national team, taking up the arguments of the far-right press of the 1930s. mercenaries and berating them for their cosmopolitanism. The president of the National Front adds – as proof – that some players don’t sing the national anthem. He interprets it as a sign of lack of love for France from people who should be defending his shirt.

After this controversy stirred up by Jean-Marie Le Pen, players are strongly encouraged to sing the national anthem. In 2010, the coach Laurent Blanc, after the South African scandal of the Domenech era, even had his players distribute the words of the Marseillaise… Besides, no one is offended when athletes from other disciplines are silent. Who remembers that three of the four French riders Olympic champions in show jumping in 2016 did not take up the national anthem broadcast after the medal ceremony?

There are two weights, two measures…

Of course. French footballers are particularly attractive because many of them come from a former French colony. France has more to fix its colonial past than the players have to prove their allegiance to France with this song.

After the Blues’ strike in Knysna South Africa during the 2010 World Cup, public opinion silenced its national players. In 1998 and 2000 he celebrated them as heroes. Does football also go from love to hate?

Probably yes. Most importantly, it shows that the crowd can be versatile… especially given the opportunity. The sports press demanded to hate Raymond Domenech, the coach at the time. The political world of the years of Nicolas Sarkozy took advantage of the controversies to fuel the debate on national identity. Pure ideology.

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Part of public opinion expects a symbolic gesture of support from the Blues for migrant workers in Qatar and for LGBT people. Is this their role?

Under the pretext that they are on TV, they are required to make the biggest political speeches and the biggest social and environmental sensitivities… They have decided to support NGOs. This could be a good clue.

Why does everything about France become controversial so quickly?

France on the one hand is a huge sounding board, on the other there is a form of class contempt.

How is this contempt for class characterized?

An example: the actor Vincent Lindon has called for a boycott of the World Cup organized in Qatar. Why not ! Human rights are not respected and this competition is a climatic aberration. However, has this same Vincent Lindon, president of the jury of the Cannes Film Festival 2022, called for a boycott of the films produced by the Doha Film Institute in competition in Un Certain Regard and The Directors Fortnight? Answer: no. Cinema is an art, do you understand? There are also rare requests to boycott the World Cup in Doha and the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Qatar… Why? Because these sports are followed, for the most part, by a certain social elite.

This contempt is also characterized by money…

Yes, we all remember this quote from Anne-Sophie Lapix about “millionaires” who “run after a ball” at the dawn of the 2018 World Cup in Russia. Let’s not blame the children of millionaires for being millionaires themselves. So why are suburban kids blamed? More class contempt. Becoming a professional footballer involves great sacrifices, from an early age. It is also much more difficult to integrate the French team than to enter the Normal Sup. The statistics are formal! There is an immense “proletarian” mass among professional players.

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