France and Football

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Date: 14th October

Setting: Le Stade de France, Paris

the Match: a football Friendly France vs Tunisia….

……what happens next?



As is customary, the Friendly opened with a recital of the French national song, ‘La Marseillaise‘. Ironically, at the point the singer reached the lines

Allons enfants de la patrie

come children of the nation

whistling reached a crescendo from the French Tunisian spectators.

Other reports state that the whistling didn’t stop at the singing of national anthem: for the duration of the 90 minutes it continued whenever French players were in possession of the ball.It was a stunning expression of disillusionment and alienation.

They certainly did not feel part of the ‘patrie‘ – given their experiences of discrimination faced by ‘les indigenes‘ in all walks – from employment to housing – so vividly chronicled by Fauza Guene in her novels.
The Sarkozy Government was quick to bare its teeth at this display. Rather than drawing lessons, it responded provocatively.

The President of the French Football Federation was summoned the next morning to the Presidential offices at l’Elysee to explain why he had not immediately cancelled the match. He had to say that it would not have been an easy task to suddenly evacuate over 50,000 spectators!

Prime Minister Fillon called it “an insult for France and the players”.

The Minister of Interior (and former Defence Minister) Michele Alliot-Marie, next announced the launch of an enquiry into the incident, and that video footage would be examined to identify the whistlers!

Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot, not to outdone, affirmed that henceforth football matches would be immediately terminated and that subsequent friendlies with the country concerned would be put on hold.

The French media voiced opinions that those responsible should be hounded further – for example Jean Paul-Ney: “Rendez vos passeports et autres cartes nationales d’identite, vous ne les meritez pas” [return your passports and national identity cards, you do not merit them].

However the furore should not be a matter of surprise in a country with deeply embedded racism, notwithstanding the rhetoric of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

During the 2005 city disturbances in France, Sarkozy vowed that he would ‘karcherise’ [cleanse] the cities of its ‘racailles‘ [rabble] immigrant-dominated areas. This dismissive outlook towards the problems of inequalities in France is reflected in his Government’s response to this whistling incident.

In a debate in 2003, while Minister of Interior, Sarkozy needled Tariq Ramadan on the issue of Islamic hudood for adultery. The secular French can mock people of faith for their ‘superstitious’ customs and traditions, but they too are wedded to their own sacred cows.

During the long-running Foulard (Veil) controversy, one French Minister of Interior, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, even leaned on French state television in 1999 to stop the appearance of an articulate and presentable hijabi Muslim woman pressing her case – because she was too effective!

UEFA’s response to this football hallabaloo was to seek clarification: would one whistler be sufficient to invoke the measure, or would it have to be 10,000? In a similar vein, Francois Barou, leader of the ‘centrist’ party MoDem, viewed the Government’s reactions a ploy to distract the public from the financial crisis.

One of the voices of sanity in this crisis has come from a recently formed group, ‘Les Indigenes de la Republique‘ ( It features an article by Claire Villiers asking:

“Who is provocative? The fans of Tunisia who supported their team and whistled at the symbol of the opposing team, or those who stir up feelings of hate by the violence and demagoguery of their proposals?…Like the Historian Sebastian Ledoux has written (Liberation, 13th October), ‘whistling [against] The Marseillaise is an expression of the feeling towards the French nation, [that stands] accused of not holding to its promises of integration in the political life of the city’…

Who is provocative if not Francois Fillon who does not acknowledge the discrimination and accumulation of inequalities that are the real ‘insult for France’ in the 21st Century? This France which does not live up to the principles of its own Constitution: right of employment, means of subsistence, and dignity…”

And, after all the fuss, are the words of the Marseillaise particularly edifying?

“…Arise children of the fatherland
The day of glory has arrived
Against us tyranny’s
Bloody standard is raised
Bloody standard is raised
Can you hear in the fields
The howling of these fearsome soldiers?
They are coming into our midst
To cut the throats of our sons and consorts!

To arms, citizens,
Form in battalions,
March, march!
Let impure blood
Water our furrows!”

In Britain these words would make one liable to the offence of glorification of terrorism under the terms of the Terrorism Act 2006!