I was on vacation in Corsica last week while the media uproar and indignation heated up over France’s disappointing, culturally offensive and lackluster football team. In a dingy bar in a small village called Cargèse on the island, my husband and I watched with jaws-dropped as France’s overpaid and over-mediatized superstars were taught what it meant to play as a real team by their Mexican opponents. Ironically, we were watching in embarrassment next to a very elated group of Mexicans, quite possibly the only ones on the entire island.
I grew up playing football (yes yes, soccer) but never really cared for it as a sport to follow on television. I happened to meet my husband at the start of the last World Cup which not only reignited my interest in the game but also set the stage for many of our dates. It defined that summer and defined the beginning of what became a long-lasting love.
Should this year’s dismal performance portend an end to a French-American romance? I wouldn’t go that far. But what the events of the last week in France do indicate is a classic case of heroes falling from grace – athletes idolized by French people of all ages have let down their fans with their impertinence and flagrant disrespect.
For those unfamiliar with the incidents (hopefully because your country isn’t polluting the airwaves with this trivial nonsense over more important issues like the oil spill in the Gulf), their tantrums and their refusal to train (READ: striking, France’s favorite pastime) were a result of sending Nicolas Anelka home for insulting the coach, Raymond Domenech, and a tiff between the team’s captain Patrice Evra and the fitness trainer. The team even threatened to boycott their final game against South Africa which they ended up losing, much to the satisfaction of disillusioned French football fans everywhere.
France’s sports minister, Roselyne Bachelot, labeled them a “moral disaster” and argued that they had irrevocably tarnished France’s image, destroying a once well-anchored source of national pride. I asked my husband why people everywhere were so outraged and disgusted by what happened – it’s just a football team, right? No, the World Cup “est une vitrine au monde” – a window to the world, he said. More than that, it’s because people around the world have such a passionate involvement with athletics that that a disappointment such as this actually has a meaningful impact on their lives.
People everywhere associate the teams with the nation they represent and often come to certain conclusions based on their performance and behavior. To the French, who almost won the Cup 4 years ago had it not been for some hurt feelings and a head butt, this couldn’t- give-a-damn attitude is humiliating and an indication of the team’s level of commitment to their country. There are certain values you can’t mess with in France, the flag being one of them.
People who don’t regularly follow football, myself included, follow the World Cup and are excited to see nation against nation, rooting for our own. The world was watching and the French team took for granted that it was a privilege to be part of the Cup, all the while making a mockery of the cherished game. And don’t forget making the country look bad. Really bad. Bruising French pride is not something that is taken lightly - I’ve learned that the hard way.
The French team showed their true colors in the last week as overpaid drama queens who quickly resort to childish antics when faced with a conflict. But what burns me up about this more than anything is that it has taken center stage in the French media to the point where the nightly news mentions the oil spill and the 25 people left dead after floods swept the south of France last week last and in passing. I suppose people need this kind of drama as a respite from real world crises and from a sociological perspective, this kind of “celebrity” drama is escapism. While I can understand that young kids all over France have been stripped of their role models, are a bunch of spoiled children in uniforms really worth all the newspaper ink?