The French football team may not have scored enough, but French politicians certainly have.
I have never been a football fan, but I tremendously enjoyed the World Cup final in Qatar. It was a great game. In my local bar in Moscow, everybody was for Argentina – including myself, a Frenchman, though that’s mainly because I love tango.
The Argentinian players, with all their tattoos, seemed like the members of some Honduran gang. And their somehow Italian ability to fall every time they encountered the hair of an opponent was a good reminder that it is really just a show. When the French coach, Didier Deschamps, substituted Giroud, Griezmann, and Hernandez for Thuram, Coman, and Camavinga, I had a blast, as it didn’t really seem like a game of Argentina v France as much as Italy v Cameroon.
But the real circus has been taking place in the French political arena. While the Washington Post was complaining about the lack of black people on the Argentinian team, France has been having its own reinterpretation of the last days of this tournament.
Everybody expected mayhem in the streets of France after the France-Morocco semifinal. Belgium and Spain had already been theaters of violence after the victories of Morocco. The result of this semifinal wouldn’t really matter: Riots were expected in any case. Thousands went out into the streets. Sadly, a Moroccan teenager died in Montpellier after being hit by the car of a French supporter celebrating his team’s victory. However, the reports didn’t emphasize that the French supporter (who was from the Romany community) panicked because he found himself threatened by Moroccan fans. Newspapers, as usual, focused on the politics, just like they did when the major free weekly newspaper 20 Minutes ran a piece entitled ‘The ultra-right disturbs the party’: “The good-natured atmosphere observed at the end of France’s qualification for the final of the Football World Cup quickly became electric on Wednesday evening in several cities of France, where clashes broke out. Some were instigated by ultra-right activists.” Some. Very well. What about the other ones?
When the news of a France-Morocco semifinal broke out, a meme appeared on the French internet with French Minister of Justice Eric Dupont-Moretti and Minister of Internal Affairs Gérald Darmanin. The former asks: “What are we going to do this evening?” The latter answers: “We will explain that they were British supporters raging after their defeat.” It’s a reference to Darmanin’s infamous claims that violence during the Champions League final in Paris this year was to be blamed on British fans. Everybody very well knew that it was to be blamed on what the French politicians like to call ‘the youth’. So, what did Darmanin do after the clashes that followed the France-Morocco match and before the final show of the FIFA World Cup? He announced that he had put the “ultra-right groups” under surveillance. We are talking about 2,000-3,000 individuals. The Moroccan population in France, according to the last INSEE statistics, is around 1,706,000.
Emmanuel Macron was craving for a victory of ‘les Bleus’. It would have been the second one during his presidency. It would have been, from a political marketing point of view, a fantastic opportunity to show the nation as ‘united’. It is a well-known fact that the 1998 victory and its motto, ‘la France Black-Blanc-Beur’ (the Black-White-Arabic France), had been a huge political gain for former president Jacques Chirac. However, as we know, this year Messi’s team won, rendering the prospect of a new celebration of a ‘united’ French triumph moot.
Nevertheless, some political gain had to be extracted. So they had to get emotional because some players of the French team (mainly the ones who missed their goals during the penalty shoot-out) became targets of racism on social networks and because the French star Mbappé was mocked by Argentinian goalkeeper Martinez. The French Federation of Football decided to sue the authors of these comments. It seems like football players really are actors on the field and divas elsewhere. Football fans are known to get so emotional that it leads to every kind of mockery – or even to the murder of a player. Nowadays, an offense by some random guy on the internet is considered an atrocity. To a guy earning $200,000 a week. La commedia dell’arte at its peak.
But, to add an even funnier note to the spectacle, Marine Le Pen urged French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to take action against the ‘extremist movements’, whatever their political views may be. Which really means against the ‘ultra-right’, because migrants do not form any kind of political movement and Antifa have never been troubled by the authorities whatsoever. Marine Le Pen, the head of the most anti-immigration party of France. Where did the French right-wing opposition go? Apparently, it went so far right it ended up on the left.
And thus, French political marketing has managed to turn a sports defeat into an antiracist campaign.
This evolution may be illogical for some. But France occupies a very specific place in the ‘antiracist’ movement sweeping the West. A society like the Japanese one is based on a very straightforward racial standard. The Russian one is based on ethnicities, the American one on economic success, and the French one on … language. Any African or Asian speaking a bit of French can be considered French or an aspiring French citizen (disclaimer: Russians and Belarusians might encounter some disenchantment with this matter). Then enter into the game the democratic principles. As the statistics show, newly-born babies in France are increasingly of non-French descent. So, as a politician, why would you go against such a big part of your potential electorate?
Back in 2018, we could read on ESPN : “Nearly a decade ago, Arsene Wenger ranked the Paris region as the second-best talent pool in soccer after Sao Paulo in Brazil. But by now, the French capital surely ranks top.” Anyone who’s been in the suburbs of Paris understands what it really means from a non-football point of view. Conservatives complaining about this should really find another fight, the deal is done. All the media and political activities surrounding the FIFA World Cup really show only one thing: The ethnographic shift that is happening in this part of Europe is not to be stopped. Doesn’t mean Team France will win more World Cups, though.