Saturday, July 08, 2006

Les bleus - the best African Team.

Last night I came across a challenging article on the French soccer team, written by a Cameroonian reporter who writes for a Korean online paper. What caught my attention is that he called les bleus, the French team, the best 'African' team at the World Cup. In fact, les bleus have been often called the "Black-Blanc-Beur" (Black-White-Arab) in French (see here), and it is true that 78% of the French team has African roots. A lot of the youths in the poverty-ridden suburban ghettos rejoice at seeing one of their own score - Zinedine Zidane has Kabyle roots and comes from one of those poor areas of Marseille.
However, I never realized that in Africa too, "many people are mad about the French team and almost as enthusiastic as they would be with their own national teams".
Quite often, their zeal is for a certain player with the same national roots rather than for the whole team, in the same way that fans normally support Manchester, Barcelona, PSG, Bayern Munich, and Chelsea -- for the fact that a fellow countryman plays on that team.
Another good point made by the article is that France has made the most of its diversity - especially compared to most other European teams. It is true that if nothing else, France has at least managed to have an ethnically heterogenous team which is not the case of, say, the Spanigh league which illustrates "the kind of racial abuse that Black players face in Europe"
The French coach, Raymond Domenech, bitterly complained after their second round encounter with Spain that Spanish fans racially abused his side.
"When I arrived with the bus there were fans making monkey chants," he said.
Yet as we all not not everything is rosy in France. A lot of French people are disillusioned and bitter that the 1998 victory which seemed to unite the nation around the celebration of what was the called "the rainbow team" did not change much of the country's divide.
Recently, the urban riots of last November have been a wake-up call for a lot of French people but worse still, the political success of Jean-Marie Le Pen - the rightwing politician who has long blamed immigrants for France's social problems - in 2002 (he got 21% of the vote and made it to the secound round of the presidential elections) have proved that racial integration may have been nothing but a myth.
So this time, the French media and the French people are much more realistic and don't necessarily believe that their multi-racial team will ease racial tension. No more 'black-blanc-beur' rhetoric. That is probably good. Most people know that the nation is divided and that a World Cup victory won't change things in the long run. It'll take time.
After all, Le Pen has not hesitated in complaining that les bleus had too many people of color:
"The coach went overboard on the proportion of players of color … In this area he should have been a bit more careful, maybe he got carried away in his ideology."Le Pen said
"We feel that France doesn't totally recognize itself in this team," he added. "It is artificial to bring players from abroad and call it the French team."
That being said, it does not mean that a win might not help. And as the article by Amin George Forji reminds us, even if France lost, it would still mean that some integration is working in this country and that immigration may not be so bad for Europe. Soccer is hopefully only the first step towards racial and social integration in other areas, just like sport has been in the US for African-Americans.
I guess we'll see in next year's presidential elections if Le Pen's theories are as sucessful as before. What is certain is that the question of racial and social integration of the minorities - including women - will be one of the top issues of the presidential campaign. And that's an excellent thing.

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