Les Bleus in the news again: Racism, nationhood and politics

The matters of racial politics and the global game has always seen a very fluid and uneasy interface, a relationship that is almost unheard of nowadays in the USA in most team sports.
Since Jim Brown, the great Cleveland Browns running back broke through racial barriers in the 1950’s, the all black Texas Western basketballers winning the NCAA title in 1966 shocking an all white powerhouse Kentucky team, and the black power salute of Tommy Smith and John Carlos in the 1968 Mexico Olympics upsetting the nationalistic sentiments of Washington DC and its predominantly white power brokers, the dominance of black athletes in most team sports in the USA is by and large unquestioned. Next weekend the NFL makes history with two black coaches going to the Superbowl for the first time as Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith meet each other as the Colts get ready to take on the Patriots for the national title. Occasionally, there are hiccups of the Rush Dumbaugh variety where as an NFL commentator he ridiculed Donovan McNabb indicating he was getting a pass from the media because he was black.
However in other parts of the world the composition of a soccer team is still a contentious issue as to one of what defines nationhood and nationality. England has seen an ongoing debate whether Arsene Wenger’s success at Arsenal has come at the expense of consciously excluding English players. Mexico’s coach Ricardo La Volpe chose Zinha and Guillermo Franco for the World Cup setting off a fierce resistance to their inclusion on the grounds that they were not Mexican. Nowhere has this issue been as polarizing as in France which regularly sees Jean Marie Le Pen of the Nationalist Party questioning the ‘Frenchness’ of the Les Bleus. Usually, this is dismissed as the rantings of a far right bigot and not reflective of the more moderate views of the fans who celebrate the national team’s success irrespective of colour. The Socialist Party and its charismatic leader Segolene Royal are hoping to sweep into power on a platform of inclusion and pluralism in this year’s elections. The Les Bleus are a powerful part of this message. However, there are indications that there are divisions within the PS that oppose this message. Today, George Frêche, the ex-mayor of Montpelier and a founder of the PS and a Royal supporter was sacked for racist statements made in November about Les Bleus. ” In this team, there are nine “blacks” out of eleven. Normally, there would be three or four of them. It would be a reflection of the country. But there, if there is as much of them, it is as if there are no whites. I am ashamed for this country. Soon there will be 11 blacks.”
If this is indeed a liberal politician questioning the ‘Frenchness’ of the Les Bleus, look for this issue not to go away quietly into the good night anytime soon. It will only get worse if a nationalist and a proponent of the uniform civil code like Nicolas Sarkozy gets voted in.

One comment on “Les Bleus in the news again: Racism, nationhood and politics
  1. Whooah! We all know Munich ’72; Mexico City ’68;
    Lots to discuss here…but I won’t; I just urge you to try and find a photo of the LA ’84 Gold Medal Olympics; French and none of these players appearing to hail from anywhere else but France itself or ties to any where like Martinique or Senegal. I don’t know how much that medal signified back in ’84 and I don’t know if any of their “big” stars were on that team.

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