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?

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

Last week, I presented a conference paper about a controversial gesture that links French footballer Nicolas Anelka and the comedian Dieudonné. Here’s an article about this topic that I published on the website The Conversation in 10th February this year about this topic. I am reproducing this article in accordance with the terms and conditions of their Creative Commons license.

By Jonathan Ervine, Bangor University

French comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala has been acquitted over a video in which he called for the release of a man who tortured and murdered a Jew in 2006. The court ruled it could not prove he was behind the video’s release.

But this is far from the only controversy to surround him recently. In addition to recently being banned from performing shows at several venues in France, this week Dieudonné was banned from entering the UK.

It is largely the quenelle gesture that has caused all the fuss, on this side of the channel at least. It was largely unknown in Britain prior to reactions to Nicolas Anelka’s decision to perform this salute after scoring for West Bromwich Albion against West Ham on December 28, 2013. One could make precisely the same point about Dieudonné himself, with whom Anelka was seeking to demonstrate solidarity.

Some eagle-eyed film goers might have recognised Dieudonné from the role he played in the 2002 film Astérix and Obélix Meet Cleopatra. Others might have been aware of occasional UK press coverage devoted to allegations of anti-Semitism that have been levelled at him following on and off-stage declarations, as well as his various convictions for inciting hatred.

For some, the quenelle is an anti-Semitic gesture but others, such as Anelka, seek to play it down as being merely anti-system. Roger Cukierman of The Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions (CRIF) stated that the quenelle is not anti-Semitic when performed in “in a place that has no significance for Jews”. But since making these comments Cukierman has criticised Anelka for choosing to express solidarity with Dieudonné.

On the other hand French government spokesperson Najat Vallaud Belkacem has said that it would be “incredibly stupid or incredibly naïve” to interpret the quenelle as being anti-system and not anti-Semitic.

But it’s clear that there is division among Jewish groups as to how to interpret the quenelle. Mark Gardner of the Jewish organisation Community Security Trust has suggested that the way in which Dieudonné and his close allies refer to Jews and Jewish groups means that their “anti-system” approach can be perceived as also being anti-Semitic.

The complexities that stem from differing interpretations of what the quenelle denotes – explicitly and implicitly – may well explain why almost a month elapsed between Anelka performing the gesture and the Football Association issuing him with a disciplinary charge. Although Anelka declared that he would not repeat his quenelle goal celebration two days after the match where he performed it, he has continued to seek to justify the gesture.

In so doing, he has adopted a similar defence to French footballer Samir Nasri, who was photographed performing the gesture outside Manchester City’s training ground in autumn 2013.

Dieudonné encourages his followers to submit pictures of themselves performing the quenelle to his website and he displays a large gallery of examples. His use of the web, and in particular social media, has become increasingly important at a time when he is rarely interviewed by the mainstream media in France and has had several shows banned due to public order concerns and the state’s desire to reflect upon “how to prevent the repeated inciting of hate and racial discrimination and remarks that infringe upon human dignity” .

In so doing, the French state has had to attempt to balance freedom of expression with its concerns about maintaining public order.

But the strategies of both the UK and French governments could be seen as contributing to the pariah-like status that Le Monde journalist Benoît Hopquin sees as playing a key role in Dieudonné’s “route to success”.

During the six weeks that have elapsed since Anelka’s goal celebration made headlines, Dieudonné’s number of followers on Twitter appear to have trebled. There has also been a 60% increase in the number of “likes” for his Facebook page. His official Facebook page recently shared a video of an English language report on France24 about his ban from the United Kingdom. It appeared to celebrate the ban via the inclusion of the phrase “the quenelle is not stopping its world tour”.

Publicity gained through controversy is largely what keeps Dieudonné in the news. Somewhat paradoxically, the more he is portrayed as an outcast the larger the following he gains. If the potential of his on and off-stage declarations to inflame tensions – and the extent to which they are propagated – is to be reduced, it is perhaps time for the UK and France to think carefully about how they manage such a challenging situation.

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.

What football team does Francois Hollande support?

Francois Hollande football

The French, English and Scottish football seasons have all started during the last few weeks and this has got me thinking about differences in attitudes to football and the two sides of the Channel. For example, I recently realized that I knew of the favourite football teams of all but one of the UK prime ministers from during my lifetime but could only name the preferred club of one French president from the same period.

When it comes to UK prime ministers, it makes sense to start with Thatcher as her arrival at 10 Downing Street occurred in the same year as my own arrival in the maternity wing of Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. Her successor as prime minister, John Major, once said that Thatcher “dutifully turned up to watch great sporting events, but always looked rather out of place”; London 2012 chairman Seb Coe argued that ”she never really understood sport until it migrated – and sometimes mutated – beyond the back page, or impacted on other areas of policy”.

The favourite teams of her successors as prime minister are as follows: Chelsea (John Major), Newcastle United (Tony Blair), Raith Rovers (Gordon Brown) and Aston Villa (David Cameron). Tony Blair has talked of his childhood memories of watching Newcastle United at St. James’s Park and the mis-reporting of these recollections once sparked debate over Blair apparently having allegedly claimed to recall watching a famous player who had in fact in retired before Blair started watching Newcastle.

Gordon Brown, like Tony Blair, grew up supporting a local team. In Brown’s case, it was Raith Rovers, a team who play in the Fife town of Kirkcaldy. As a Scottish politician with aspirations in the UK parliament, Brown at times faced criticism for underplaying his Scottish roots in order to appeal to a predominantly English UK electorate. A prime example came when he talked of his fond memories of seeing Paul Gascoigne score for England against Scotland at Wembley in the 1996 European Championships.

Current UK prime minister David Cameron claims to support Aston Villa as they were one of the teams who played in the first match that he attended. As Cameron was brought up in Berkshire, he cannot claim that this choice involved following his local team or represents his roots in the same way that Blair or Brown have at times sought to. However, those who see Cameron’s Conservative party as being dominated by a rich elite might feel it appropriate that the prime minister supports a team whose name includes the word ‘villa’.

When it comes to French presidents from 1979 onwards, until recently I only knew that Nicolas Sarkozy was a fan of Paris Saint-Germain. Sarkozy’s presidency, and that of current head of state Francois Hollande, show that publicly demonstrating enthusiasm for sport as a French politician is not always well received. Sarkozy’s enthusiasm for jogging was criticized by right-wing intellectual Alain Finkielkraut for being somewhat unpresidential.

During this summer’s World Cup, Francois Hollande’s enthusiasm for football was criticized by Luc Ferry who – like Sarkozy – is a member of the centre right UMP party that is currently in opposition. Ferry complained about a generation of politicians who he claimed ‘prefer football to the economy or philosophy or history‘ and accused Hollande of abandoning his responsibilities to the French nation by organizing a screening of one of France’s World Cup games in the Elysee Palace, the official residence of the French president. Ferry was not alone in criticizing Hollande for his interest in following the World Cup as this article shows.

In a situation that some would say has parallels with his private life, it appears that Hollande has not been a faithful to a single football team. He has talked of having initially been a fan of FC Rouen due originally being from the Normandy town and having played for their youth teams. However, he has also evoked his liking for Breton sides Nantes and Guingamp as well as his long-held interest in Monaco. Elsewhere, it has been reported that he is a fan of both Monaco and Barcelona.

These attitudes to supporting a football team are in stark contrast to the notion that being a supporter is about remaining loyal to a single team no matter how they are performing. However, it is generally much rarer for public figures in France to show an interest in football and it seems that a lot fewer French people than Brits actually have a favourite team.

Although the size of the French and UK populations is very similar, France is a much larger country in terms of area but has many fewer football teams. While there are 92 league teams in England (and a further 24 teams in a national non-league division immediately below the football league) and 42 in Scotland, there are only 58 teams (of whom no more than 46 can be professional) in France’s three national football leagues.

Consequently, the size and number of teams in France means that it is possible to be quite far from a  league football team. As demonstrated by this map of where Ligue 1 teams are located, this is particularly likely to be the case for people living in central France. Additional maps show that this trend is somewhat less prevalent where Ligue 2 teams are concerned but is certainly true when it comes to the teams who compete in Le Championnat National (the third tier of French football).

Although the criticism of French politicians’ interest in sport in many ways points to differing attitudes towards football on the different sides of the Channel, it is nevertheless the case that politicians in both countries are also happy to exploit the sport when it suits and when their national team is doing well. It may be more acceptable for British rather than French politicians to show an interest in football, but France’s 1998 World Cup victory showed that politicians on all sides are happy to exploit football when it can be held up as a positive symbol of French society and the French nation.

 

How important is it what football team a politician supports? To what extent should politicians take an interest in sport and do they always do so in a sincere manner? Feel free to let me know via the comments box below, I’d really welcome feedback on what I’ve said here.

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The Greatest Documentaries of All Time

The September 2014 edition of the British Film Institute’s Sight and Sound magazine features a poll of more 300 critics and filmmakers that has been used to draw up a list of the greatest documentaries of all time. This has resulted in the drawing up of  a critics’ top 50 and a filmmakers’ top 30. Topping both lists is Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929).

As someone whose teaching and research has focused mainly on French cinema, I was excited to see five French documentaries in the critics’ top 10. Even among this small group of films, there were quite a few different themes and approaches. Claude Lanzmann’s 550-minute long Holocaust documentary Shoah (1985) was number two on the critics’ list, a place ahead of Chris Marker’s cinematic essay and travelogue Sans Soleil (1982). Alain Resnais’s concentration camp documentary Nuit et brouillard (1955) was fourth, two places ahead of Jean Rouch and Edgar Morin’s cinéma vérité masterpiece Chronique d’un été (1961). At number 8 was Agnès Varda’s Les Glaneurs et la Glaneuse (2000), a quirky film shot using hand-held digital cameras.

The Sight and Sound list got me thinking about what I would include on my own list of best documentaries. For this reason, I have drawn up a list of ten documentaries that I feel stand out for a variety of different reasons. Some are cinematic masterpieces of their time while others are ones that I simply found to curious or amusing, or which had a degree of personal sentimental appeal. As it is so hard to compare radically different types of films, I have decided to list them in the order in which they were made.

 

Nuit et brouillard (Alain Resnais, 1955)

Released teen years after the end of World War One, Alain Resnais’s documentary about Nazi concentration camps is rooted not just in the past but also the then present and future. It constitutes a meditation on war and memory and reflects on the wider question of to what extent it is possible to represent and adequately commemorate an event such as the Holocaust. It knits together archive footage and still images of the camps as well as shots of what the camps looked like at the time of the film’s production. The gentle music of Hans Eisler and the poetic script written by Jean Cayrol and spoken by Michel Bouquet combine to form a powerful piece of documentary cinema that raises questions about both history and the power of images.

 

Le Joli Mai (Chris Marker, 1963)

Chris Marker’s Le Joli Mai has the feel of a leisurely stroll round Paris and was shot in May 1962, shortly after the end of the Algerian War. Marker took on the role of the off-screen interviewer, asking Parisians about their hopes and fears after a period during which France had been involved in a succession of wars (Second World War, the Indochina War and the Algerian War). Despite being two and a half hours long, the film still succeeds in providing and engaging – and occasionally amusing – portrait of Paris and Parisians in the early 1960s.

 

Loin du Vietnam (Chris Marker et al, 1967)

This collective project brought together short films by leading French directors such as Chris Marker, Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais and Agnes Varda. It also featured footage shot by international filmmakers such as Joris Ivens and William Klein, providing it with a range of perspectives on the Vietnam War. The film also constituted a meditation on film and what happens when a film ends and an audience lives the cinema and heads home. Godard’s segment, which broke the rule that none of the directors should appear in their own part of the film, featured footage of him contemplating the potential impact of political cinema while fiddling with a camera.

 

Hoop Dreams (Steve James, 1994)

I sometimes struggle to put my finger on exactly what it is about Steve James’s Hoop Dreams that makes it so engaging. The film tells the story of two Chicago high school students who hope to make it as professional basketball players. In many ways, it is a traditional sporting story about the underdog trying to overcome adversity. The central duo, William Gates and Arthur Agee, are African Americans from a run down part of Chicago who end up attending a well-to-do school that is renowned for its basketball history. For almost three hours, Steve James succeeds in providing a fly-on-the-wall portrait of  the pair’s ups and downs as they strive towards their goal in a film that raises issues about education, race and social division in the United States.

 

Etre et avoir (Nicolas Philibert, 2002)

I first watched Nicolas Philibert’s film Etre et avoir in autumn 2002 in Lille. I was returning to France having worked in a primary school a year previously, so the documentary about a single room primary school perhaps had a natural appeal. Although such schools are increasingly rare, the film did have a universal appeal due to its focus on learning, growing up and the passing of the seasons. It was also the first documentary by Philibert that I had seen and I remember marveling at the subtlety of his filmmaking. A rarely audible and never visible presence in the film, he succeeded in producing a sentimental and at times moving portrait of the world of education and kids growing up in rural central France.

 

On n’est pas des marques de vélos (Jean-Pierre Thorn, 2002)

Cinema and the RepublicTo see the film’s trailer, click here.

If it was subtlety that was at the heart of Etre et avoir‘s appeal to me it was perhaps the directness of On n’est pas des marques de vélos that grabbed meThe film tells the story of a breakdancer known as Bouda who is deported from France to Tunisia despite having been legally present in France since he was a few months old. The film both tells the story of the development of hip-hop culture in suburban France and makes hip-hop culture (rap music, breakdance routines, graffiti-style titles) part of the film’s aesthetic. This film itself was one of the reasons that I wanted to do a PhD and being able to interview its director Jean-Pierre Thorn in 2005 was a real privilege. It was a further privilege to be able to use an image from the film on the cover of my book Cinema and the Republic: Filming on the Margins in Contemporary France.

 

Favela Rising (Matt Mochary and Jeff Zimbalist, 2005)

Matt Mochary and Jeffy Zimbalist’s Favela Rising has a similar focus to On n’est pas des marques de vélos  as it shows how hip-hop music and dance can play a role in seeking to provide a message of hope in Rio de Janeiro’s under-privileged areas. The film tells the story of the AfroReggae movement, and especially the role of drug-dealer turned community worker Anderson Sa. As with On n’est pas des marques de véloship-hop culture is both part of the film’s subject matter and its aesthetic.

 

Air Guitar Nation (Alexandra Lipsitz, 2006)

It is probably fair to say that Air Guitar Nation is not a film that is widely seen as having marked film history. Although it may not be groundbreaking in cinematic terms, it brings to the wider public a lesser-known international cultural event: the World Air Guitar Championships. The interviews with the competitors, whose routines involve miming to backing tracks as they pretend to play an invisible guitar, are frequently amusing. At one point a competitor proudly states that he considers himself to a musician but sees one of his main rivals as a mere actor.

 

Man on Wire (James Marsh, 2008)

Man of the Wire stands out largely due to the spectacular footage of high-wire walker Philippe Petit, whose exploits include tightrope walking between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre in New York during the 1970s. The film features many interviews with Petit as he describes the meticulous planning he devoted to such endeavours and also looks back at his roots. Personal footage from Petit’s own archive helps to build the story and Michael Nyman’s soundtrack adds to the dream-like atmosphere.

 

The Great Hip-Hop Hoax (Jeanie Finlay, 2013)

The Great Hip-Hop Hoax tells the story of a Scottish rap duo who decide to pretend to be from California in order to make it in the music industry. The film is full of twists and surprises as the pair’s hoax goes remarkably well, fooling fans, music journalists and members of several rival bands. It is also a tale of two friends whose meteoric but constantly somewhat precarious rise leads to significant tensions along the way.

 

What do you think of this list of ten memorable documentaries that I have drawn up? Which films would you include in your list of great documentaries? Feel free to let me know via the comments box below, I’d really welcome feedback on what I’ve said here.

Remember that you can also subscribe to this blog by entering your e-mail address in the box on the right of the screen. You can also follow me on Twitter and like this blog’s page on Facebook.

 

When humanities and sciences meet

humanities & sciences

In the last few months, I’ve been at several events where I have met fellow researchers from a range of different disciplines. This has entailed coming into contact with many people who I would not normally encounter in a typical working week. Notably, it has involved talking to many people who work in the sciences rather than just in arts and humanities.

At school, the breadth of the Scottish education system meant that I was able to study a mixture of arts and science subjects at secondary level. Indeed, the five subjects that I chose to study as Highers were English, French, German, Maths and Physics. Although my first degree was in French and Philosophy, being able to combine arts and sciences right the way through secondary school may explain why I also studied Statistics during my first year.

Since then, I have generally remained more firmly within the confines of the arts or arts and humanities. Nevertheless, I remember meeting researchers from other disciplines at postgraduate training events when I was doctoral student. As a lecturer, such encounters have been somewhat rarer. I have discussed issues to do with teaching and student support with colleagues from many other departments at meetings but not always research.

However, things have started to change over the last year. First of all, I participated in a series of ‘random coffee trials’ organised here at Bangor University. These involved being paired with someone from a different department and discussing your research together over coffee. Although I can’t really say that much potential for collaboration emerged from the two meetings I had in this scheme, it was good to hear about other people’s research and meet colleagues from other departments with whom I wouldn’t normally come into contact. First, I met a colleague who worked in the field of public health and then another one from psychology.

In May of this year, I participated in a one-day symposium on the theme of energy that was organised by the College of Arts and Humanities here at Bangor University. The event brought together researchers from the sciences as well as arts and humanities in order to discuss the importance of the theme of energy. The talks covered topics such as sustainable packaging, recycling, media debates on global warming and the importance of energy in both Welsh literature and Asian cinema. My own presentation focused on the symbolic importance of energy as a theme in documentary films about young people living in suburban France. I began by examining different definitions of energy and how they could be applied to the films that I was analysing.

Despite there being people from so many different disciplines present, it was clear that there common interests in over-arching themes to do with energy and how it is perceived. This really showed the benefit of bringing together people from different disciplines who are all interested in a broad common theme. On a personal level, it provided me with a new way of approaching some French documentary films from a slightly different angle from before.

The most exciting opportunity to discuss my research with people from different disciplines that I’ve had this year has come via a scheme called the Welsh Crucible. The Welsh Crucible is a scheme whose main slogan is ‘developing future research leaders for Wales’ and it does so by annually bringing together 30 researchers from Welsh universities for a series of two day events. These events, known as labs, focus on general topics such as working with the media and policy makers as well as networking and also how to develop innovative cross-disciplinary research.

Through participating in the Welsh Crucible, I’ve been fortunate to learn a lot about presenting and publicizing research and also met a lot of fellow researchers from different disciplines. Initially, it was much easier to see links between my own research and those of fellow participants from similar disciplines. However, I have progressively become aware of links between my own research and that of others who are in more different disciplines. Some of this stemmed from a ‘speed dating’ style session where all participants were paired up with another researcher and had three minutes to talk about each other’s research. Even from these 29 fairly brief conversations, some exciting commonalities emerged.

What my recent experiences have taught me is that there is real value in bringing together people from different disciplines. Inevitably, this can be somewhat speculative but a speculative dimension is often something that underpins innovative research. There is an element of unpredictability within this process, but I’d argue that this is precisely what makes it so exciting.

How important do you think it is for researchers from different disciplines to work together? What do you see as the advantages and challenges of these sorts of collaborations? Feel free to let me know via the comments box below, I’d really welcome feedback on what I’ve said here.

Remember that you can also subscribe to this blog by entering your e-mail address in the box on the right of the screen. You can also follow me on Twitter and like this blog’s page on Facebook.

 

 

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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