Laurent Dubois: France's Soccer Empire in Ruins?





[Laurent Dubois is the Marcello Lotti Professor of Romance Studies and History at Duke University. He recently published "Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France," and is founding editor of the Soccer Politics Blog.]

The world watched with awe and derision this past week as the French national soccer team, boasting a roster of star players, imploded on and off the field at the World Cup....

The intellectual Alain Finkielkraut -- already well known for having derided the French team as being "black-black-black" in 2006 -- lambasted them on primetime television. The players, his argument went, were "hooligans," raised in the banlieues (French projects,) with no sense of dignity and no patriotism, and lacking proper respect for authority....

There are, in fact, no foreigners on the French team; you have to be a citizen to play. There have been a few immigrants on the team in the past decades, but those mostly arrived in France as children. Patrice Evra, for instance, is the son of a Guinean diplomat, born in Senegal, and moved to Brussels when he was one and France when he was five....

In soccer as in politics, it's easy to find scapegoats, and harder to identify the institutional failings that have brought a crisis on. But what has happened in French football, as in French society, is the result of those in charge of its institutions, not those doing their best to make their way within them.

Whatever happens next, the French team will continue to serve as a cipher for France's fears and hopes. And while this seems far off now, we can imagine that someday the French team will once again inspire, even unify France -- at least for a moment. After all, if we're drawn to sport it's in part because no matter how bad things get, there's always another round.



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