What does France’s World Cup victory mean for the country?

Here is a blog post that I originally wrote for The Football Collective (https://footballcollective.org.uk).

The Football Collective

By Dr Jonathan Ervine

The victory of a diverse French football team in this year’s World Cup created many parallels with Les Bleus’ previous success in 1998. Didier Deschamps was at the centre of both triumphs having captained the team in 1998 and managed them in 2018. In many ways, it was a case of plus ça change, plus ça reste la même chose.

Just as in 1998, the French footballing media did not demonstrate a universal sense of optimism prior to this year’s tournament. Indeed, this year’s skepticism revolved around similar themes to those which were in evidence prior to the 1998 World Cup in France. Like Aimé Jacquet in 1998, Didier Deschamps this year was charged with being overly conservative and not being at the head of a team whose style of play was not sufficiently exciting to captivate the country, if indeed it could be…

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Why football may still be coming home… to France

Jonathan Ervine, Bangor University

When England hosted the 1996 European Championships, a song by Frank Skinner, David Baddiel and the Lightning Seeds inspired the popular chant: “football’s coming home”. Ahead of England’s World Cup semi-final defeat by Croatia, many fans were again talking about football coming home. But were they right to do so? After all, there is a chance that football will still be coming home – despite England’s elimination.

Given their team’s recent performances and their country’s role in the history of football, the French also have reason to feel that football may soon be “coming home”. This idea may be hard to swallow for some English fans, not least those who are getting the lyrics wrong.

Jules Rimet – the World Cup founder mentioned in the chorus of Football’s coming home – was French. So was Henri Delaunay, who is generally seen as the brains behind the European Championships. So was Gabriel Hanot, the L’Equipe journalist credited with founding the European Cup (now Champions League). Indeed, football’s world governing body the Fédération Internationale de Football Association, better known as FIFA, was founded in Paris in 1904 and its first president was another French journalist, Robert Guérin.

The first World Cup trophy was named after Jules Rimet, FIFA president 1921-1954.

France has had a long history of establishing international sports tournaments and organisations. This in part stems from influential Frenchmen in the late 19th century such as Philippe Tissié, Paschal Grousset, and Pierre de Coubertin who became convinced of the educational and physical benefits of sport.

De Coubertin is best-known as the founder of the modern Olympics and he initially wanted the first games to take place in Paris, to coincide with the city’s 1900 Exposition Universelle. For De Coubertin and others, the development of international sport provided France with an instrument of soft power.

England were at this time somewhat suspicious of international sporting organisations, as the football sociologist John Williams has mentioned. It didn’t send a team to the World Cup until 1950, fully 20 years after the first tournament in Uruguay.

Nonetheless, England is often perceived as the home of football due to its role in the early development of the game. Sheffield FC (founded 1857) is heralded as the world’s first football team. The Football Association (FA), established in 1863, is the oldest national football association in the world and it is the FA that helped create the basis for the rules of football that exist today.

France’s oldest football team Le Havre were in fact created in 1872 by Englishmen working in the city’s port. Their sky blue and navy halved shirts represent the alma mater of the club’s founders, namely the universities of Cambridge and Oxford. Le Havre’s club anthem even adopts the same tune as “God Save the Queen”.

Just Fontaine scored a record 13 goals for France at the 1958 World Cup.

However, Williams was right that it is not easy to define where football’s true home is to be found. The line “football’s coming home” appears to hint at a sense of entitlement and ownership when it comes to England’s relationship with football.

Yet football is a global game. Its governing body FIFA may have been founded in Paris, but its headquarters are now located in Zurich, Switzerland. England is no longer home to the International Football Association Board (IFAB) that is responsible for the laws of football. Its headquarters are now also in Zurich.

‘Never understood anything about football’

Given the role that France has played in football becoming a major international sport, are many French people talking about football potentially “coming home” this summer? In short, they’re not. This is largely due to football occupying a very different place in French as opposed to English culture.

France has a larger population than England, but less than half as many professional football teams. Prior to the launch of cable channel Canal Plus in 1984, relatively little domestic football was shown on French television. Nevertheless, hosting and winning the 1998 World Cup led to increased interest in football.

Since then, high-profile failures in several major tournaments have led to France’s leading footballers facing lots of criticism back home over their bad attitudes. In 2012, French football magazine So Foot hit back and claimed that France was a “country that has never understood anything about football”. These comments appeared in a special issue on “Why France doesn’t like its footballers”. France was also described in the title of a book that year by the journalist Joachim Barbier as “This country that doesn’t like football”, or Ce pays qui n’aime pas le foot, subtitled “why France misunderstands football and its culture”.

At a time when France has faced economic challenges and an increased threat from terrorism, football has the potential to boost the national mood. This year’s World Cup Final will take place the day after a national holiday that marks Bastille Day. A victory by Les Bleus would give France good reason to claim le football revient chez lui two decades after its iconic 1998 World Cup victory.

More evidence-based articles about football and the World Cup:

Jonathan Ervine, Senior Lecturer in French and Francophone Studies, Bangor University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.


Here’s why language degrees are still important in the UK

As a language lecturer, I’ve thought a lot about the importance of language degrees following the result of the UK’s Referendum on EU membership. I strongly believe that we still need foreign language skills in this country more than ever, and also the cultural understanding that comes with learning languages, travelling and spending time abroad.

Here are some more specific thoughts about the continued importance of language degrees in the UK:

  1. A good degree in any subject plays a big role in making you employable.
  1. Degrees in modern languages are seen as being highly valuable by employers (in the UK and elsewhere) not just because of the communication skills demonstrated by language graduates, but also because of the soft skills that language graduates possess (cultural awareness, presentation skills, adaptability, and many others…).
  1. If and when Britain formally leaves the EU, language skills are likely to remain important to the UK economy as it tries to maintain trade links with countries in the EU and also outside the EU.
  1. If you’re about to graduate with a languages degree, or are already a languages graduate, you should be proud of what you’ve achieved and the skills that you possess.

Football and language in France

Language of football

I was delighted to be mentioned in a fascinating article by Richard Furlong that has appeared on the blog Language of Football. In the first of a series about the countries competing in this summer’s European Championships, he discusses debates about football and language in France.

I’ve also enjoyed the cultural, sporting and linguistic insights provided by Language of Football, so I’d strongly recommend checking it out if you have a love of football and a love of language.

Talking of football, I’m currently working on an article for the website The Conversation about football and identity in France. I’ll be sharing it here as well, so watch this space…


Lack of female players in football video games is an own goal

Football video games make it possible to take on the role of one’s heroes. But this is generally possible only if your football heroes are male. FIFA’s Women’s World Cup may start in Canada on June 6 but women have until very recently remained absent from leading football video games.

It was recently announced that EA Sports’ FIFA 16 game is to include women’s teams. Football Manager, another popular football video game, does not yet feature women but there are plans to include women’s teams in future editions. But don’t let this seeming progression fool you into thinking that the scales are being balanced. This is far from the case.

The 12 women’s teams present in EA Sports’ FIFA 16 game will include Brazil, England, France and Australia. However, current world champions Japan and former winners Norway will be absent. It’s worth remembering that there were more than 600 men’s teams in FIFA 15.

And Football Manager’s apparent plans fall behind even this. The game’s creator, Miles Jacobson, said last year that women’s leagues will be included when there are ten of them globally with comparable average attendances to the English Championship.

This may sound progressive, but it isn’t. Football Manager is actually setting the bar quite high when it comes to including women’s teams. The Championship may be English football’s second tier but it attracts larger crowds than the top divisions in most European countries.

It’s not time to celebrate yet.
Christian Bertrand / shutterstock.com

The creators of Football Manager would do well to take a closer look at attendances in top division men’s leagues. The average attendance in the US National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) last year was more than 4,000. This means that the NWSL attracts bigger crowds than the majority of top division men’s leagues in Europe.

Football Manager’s creators argue that it is not commercially viable to include women’s leagues, but how commercially viable are certain men’s leagues that are included? What about the second tier of Icelandic or Slovenian football? What about the third tier in Northern Ireland?

Including women’s teams in games such as Football Manager could make them more appealing to women. This very point has been made by gaming expert Mia Consalvo in a recent edited volume entitled Sports Videogames. So: continuing to exclude women’s teams from Football Manager could actually be a commercial own goal.

When I manage my local team Bangor City in Football Manager, they play pre-season friendlies against teams such as Mynydd Llandygai and Bangor University. Mynydd Llandygai is a village side whose players include a former next door neighbour. Bangor University’s football team has previously included students I teach.

So I can currently manage a team in Football Manager in a match against my own students but I can’t manage teams featuring the world’s leading female players. Football Manager has the set bar very high when it comes to what women’s leagues need to achieve before becoming part of the game. Unless they move the goal posts, there’s likely to be a long wait before this changes.

The Conversation

Jonathan Ervine is Senior Lecturer in French, Head of the School of Modern Languages and Cultures. at Bangor University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Tragic loss of French sports stars in helicopter crash

French grief reflects respect for a certain kind of athlete

By Jonathan Ervine, Bangor University

France is in mourning after 10 people – including three of the country’s most celebrated sporting icons – died in a helicopter crash in Argentina. Swimmer Camille Muffat, boxer Alexis Vastine and yachtswoman Florence Arthaud were participants in a television survival show.

Since their deaths were confirmed, there has been an outpouring of grief in France. Muffat, Vastine and Arthaud all captured the imagination of the French public. Their fame shows that France celebrates its athletes a little differently to some of its neighbours. Where in the UK or Italy footballers rule the roost, in France, it is sometimes a different kind of athlete in the spotlight .

Muffat was a swimmer who beat French Olympic and world champion Laure Manaudou at the 2005 French championships while still a junior. She won gold, silver and bronze medals at the 2012 London Olympics.

French sports daily L’Equipe has described her as a “discreet champion”. This choice of words encapsulates the way French swimmers are often seen. They are respected and regarded as respectable. This is in stark contrast to the attitude the same paper has taken towards members of the French men’s national football team in recent years – sportsmen often seen as disrespectful and spoilt.

The French Olympic team return to Paris in 2012

Muffat fulfilled her potential by winning three medals at the London Olympics. She also achieved fame outside sport too, and retired from competitive sport in 2014.

Vastine in action in 2010.
Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA

Vastine won the super-lightweight bronze medal in boxing at the 2008 Beijing Olympics but was eliminated in the same games and in London in 2012 after controversial decisions. French newspaper Le Monde sees him as “the cursed boxer of the Olympic games”. There had been suggestions that he had been troubled by depression and injuries after his bad luck in 2012. The accident in Argentina deprives him of the chance of ever winning Olympic gold.

At 57 years old, yachtswoman Florence Arthaud was from a different generation to the other two athletes. Heralded as a “pioneer” by L’Equipe,she broke the record for sailing solo across the North Atlantic in 1990. The same year, she won the famous solo yacht race the Route du Rhum.

Arthaud pictured in 2014.
François Destoc/EPA

Arthaud’s retirement in 2010 was tinged with regret and frustration. Twenty years on from her most significant succeses in 1990, a failure to obtain sponsorship led to the end of her professional career. Arthaud had shown considerable courage before and after her sporting career. In 1974, she survived a car accident that left her in coma and resulted in a six-month stay in hospital. In 2011, she survived a yachting accident off the coast of Corsica in which she fell from her boat.

The fact that Muffat, Vastine and Arthaud were in Argentina to participate in TF1’s survival show Dropped is testament to their star status. Their loss has shocked fellow participants in the show such as ice skater Philippe Candeloro and ex-Arsenal footballer Sylvain Wiltord.

TF1 boss Nonce Paoloni has branded the crash “a horrendous tragedy”. He also evoked the “great enthusiasm” shown by the athletes who had signed up to participate.

Le Monde referred to Dropped as “the biggest tragedy in the history of reality television” in an article detailing the extreme nature of the challenge contestants faced.

Whatever the cause of the helicopter crash, France has lost three sporting heroes. Muffat, Vastine and Arthaud achieved fame largely through swimming, boxing and competitive yachting. Such disciplines largely lack the glamour and riches associated with sports such as football and top-level athletics. This perhaps made Muffat, Vastine and Arthaud appear to be less flashy and, as such, more appealing to the public. It also heightens the poignancy and sadness that is being felt in France in particular following their loss.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Today’s fatal shootings at Charlie Hebdo office in Paris

The BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru studios in Bangor.

The BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru studios in Bangor.

It is so hard to find words to describe today’s fatal shootings at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris. I tried to provide some context and analysis on BBC Radio Wales’ show ‘Good Evening Wales’ this evening. If you want to hear it, click on the following link and listen from 2:11:00 to 2:17:00: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04w5cs1.

Due to rights agreements, this link may not work if you try to access it from outside the UK. I will try to write a fuller post about today’s events during the next week.

French football caught offside in new race controversy

This week, comments by Bordeaux manager Willy Sagnol have led to renewed discussion about racial prejudice in French football. Here is an article about this topic that I have just written for the website ‘The Conversation‘. I am reproducing this article under terms of the Creative Commons licence used by ‘The Conversation’.

French football caught offside in new race controversy

By Jonathan Ervine, Bangor University

French football has again become embroiled in controversy following comments by Bordeaux manager Willy Sagnol about black African players. In a question-and-answer session with readers of a regional newspaper, Sagnol initially suggested that he intended to sign fewer African players than his predecessors. He explained that this was due to the scheduling of the African Nations Cup, meaning that he would be deprived of certain African players during the tournament every other year.

But in the same session, Sagnol employed what appeared to be a racist stereotype to describe African players – and unsurprisingly this provoked greater anger. He described the “typical African player” as being “not expensive, generally ready to battle, what you can call powerful on the pitch”. Sagnol then qualified these comments by adding: “Football is not just about that, you also need technique, intelligence and discipline.” He continued: “You need everything, you need North European players too.” He thinks this is the case because “Northern European players have a good mentality”.

Since making these comments, Sagnol has been supported by Bordeaux’s president Jean-Louis Triaud who has said on French radio that “Willy Sagnol is anything but racist”. But Triaud himself appeared to endorse some of Sagnol’s comments by saying that African players in France “obviously work hard physically but lack a tactical level, tactical intelligence”. French anti-racist group SOS Racisme have branded Sagnol’s comments “laid-back, anti-black racism”.

An old story

Reactions to Sagnol’s comments suggest that those in power in French football are continuing to adopt a casual approach to alleged discrimination and racial slurs against African footballers. This is nothing new. In 2011, the French online investigative magazine Médiapart accused senior figures at the French Football Federation (FFF) of seeking to limit the number of black and Arab players at French youth academies.

These 2011 discussions at the FFF were motivated by concerns about the numbers of players who were trained in France but then decided to play international football for another country. During the exchanges, France’s then national team boss Laurent Blanc allegedly contrasted the strength and power of African players with the supposed attributes of others which were “more compatible with our culture”.

The most recent controversy suggests that French football is failing to learn the lessons of the past when it comes to discussing race. One must wonder how much Sagnol recalls of the 2011 controversy involving Laurent Blanc given that a press release from his club says he reacted with “incredulity” to the controversy surrounding his own recent comments.

In the fall-out of Sagnol’s comments, FFF president Noël Le Graët has argued that “the composition of the Bordeaux team line-ups that he has been selecting this season” provide sufficient reason to believe that Sagnol is not racist. Former Olympique Marseille president Pape Diouf, however, has called on African players in France to boycott an upcoming round of league matches.

Earlier this year, football’s world governing body FIFA were accused of not taking a tough enough approach to discriminatory behaviour by a member of their own executive committee. And the president of the Italian football association Carlo Tavecchio has also just been banned from holding any FIFA position for six months after allegedly racist comments about “banana-eating” African players. 2014 may well go down as a year when racism in football frequently made headlines. As well as making anti-racism videos aimed at fans, it is perhaps time for governing bodies to also focus more efforts on educating coaches and administrators.

The Conversation

Jonathan Ervine does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Here are links to two other articles about football and diversity in France that I have written for ‘The Conversation’:

– Why Dieudonné’s quenelle gesture poses challenges for Britain and France

– FA fines Nicolas Anelka but says quenelle isn’t anti-Semitic – that’s not a clear message

Here are links to other articles about French football that I have written on this blog:

– Race, identity and football in France

– What football team does Francois Hollande support?

Race, identity and football in France

As the French football team is currently competing in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it seems appropriate to focus on football in the first post on my new research blog. I speak as both an academic and a football fan here. I grew up with a real passion for football and have more recently co-edited two special editions of journals that have examined the topics of sport, media and national identity in a French and Francophone context.

This week, I was interviewed about these topics on BBC Wales after France-born Cameroon international Benoit Assou-Ekotto claimed that he had never had any interest in playing for France because black and Muslim players are the ones blamed when the team has a bad result.

The BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru studios in Bangor.

The BBC Radio Wales studios in Bangor.

In purely sporting terms, one might well ask if Benoit Assou-Ekotto would actually have been selected for the French national team if he had not decided to represent Cameroon due to it being the country of his father’s birth. Assou-Ekotto is a left-back and France are currently well-served in this position. Their World Cup squad includes Patrice Evra of Manchester United and Lucas Digne of Paris Saint-Germain; Manchester City’s Gael Clichy wasn’t even included in the group of 23 players selected by national coach Didier Deschamps.

However, does Benoit Assou-Ekotto have a valid point about attitudes to the French national football team? Although the diversity of the French national team was celebrated by politicians and political figures when Les Bleus won the World Cup in 1998, a very different picture emerged in 2010. After poor results on the pitch and perceived bad behaviour off  the pitch, Minister for Sport and Health Roselyne Bachelot criticized players who she said behaved like ‘neighbourhood gang leaders’. A fellow member of the centre-right UMP branded the players racailles, a term with similar connotations to English words such as scum or chavs.

Although these comments did not explicitly focus on race, they provided one of many examples of politicians and public figures in France seeking to blame footballing failures on the presence of players who grew up in areas known as banlieues (often run-down suburbs). Many banlieues are characterized by having an above average percentage of residents who are immigrants (or descended from immigrants) and/or members of ethnic minorities.


Fans cheer on French champions Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes.

Fans cheer on French champions Paris Saint-Germain at the Parc des Princes.

As has been mentioned by US-based academic Laurent Dubois, the French Football Federation was itself at the centre of a scandal involving allegations of racism in 2011. The investigative website MEDIAPART obtained a tape of a meeting where senior figures in the federation appeared to discuss the possibility of limiting the numbers of black and Arab players at national training academies. Despite the controversy, the vast majority of those recorded escaped any form of punishment.

The discussion of potentially introducing quotas was in part a reaction to the fact that some players who attend national training academies in France end up representing countries other than France.  Indeed, Dubois earlier this year argued in an article in the journal Contemporary French Civilization that there were effectively two French teams at the 2010 World Cup due to the presence of both France and also an Algerian squad featuring many French-born players.

As Dubois pointed out, many French-born players who represent other countries may not have been likely to have been considered good enough to represent France in the first place. Assou-Ekotto was once reportedly told that he could have a role to play in the French under-16 team while a youth team player at French team Lens. However, there are many players who earn youth team caps but do not go on to establish themselves as members of the full national side when they are older.

On the eve of the 2012 European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, I wrote an article on the website French Football Weekly in which I discussed the misbehaviour of attacker Nicolas Anelka and the subsequent strike of his team mates at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. I argued that this situation meant that France were then under pressure to create more positive headlines, a quest which by hampered by Samir Nasri swearing at a journalist after France’s quarter-final elimination by Spain.

Paris celebrated as France's 2012 Olympic team returned home, but what sort of reaction will greet the national football team after this year's World Cup in Brazil?

Paris celebrated as France’s 2012 Olympic team returned home, but what sort of reaction will greet the national football team after this year’s World Cup in Brazil?

With the far right Front National having gained more French MEPs than any other party in this year’s European elections, it may be that their leader Marine Le Pen will jump on the bandwagon and criticize the national football team if they fail or misbehave in Brazil. Her father, the former Front National leader Jean-Marie Le Pen, has previously courted controversy by accusing black players of not singing the Marseillaise before France matches and suggesting that he couldn’t identify with a team composed of so many players from immigrant and ethnic minority backgrounds.

As fate would have it, a problem with the stadium public address system in Porto Alegre meant that the Marseillaise was not played before France’s opening World Cup match against Honduras last Sunday. The 3-0 win may temporarily have silenced those who criticized Les Bleus after a first leg play-off defeat against Ukraine last autumn threatened their chances of even making it to Brazil. However, there are bigger challenges ahead for Didier Deschamps’ team both in Brazil and potentially also back home in France if their performances and behaviour do not reach the standards required to compensate for what happened in South Africa in 2010.


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