Back in 1998, France's victory in the World Cup with a multicultural team inspired pride and optimism about the prospects for the "French model" of social integration. -- Seven years later, writes Simon Kuper for London's Financial Times, "The ethnic ghettoes remain poor and isolated. Patrick Mignon, sociologist . . ., says: 'This idea of integration by football was an illusion.' . . . The first shock came in October 2001, when France played Algeria at the Stade de France. French youths of North African origin whistled at the Marseillaise before the match and later invaded the field, forcing the game's abandonment. . . . The next year Mr. Le Pen finished second in the French presidential elections. . . . France's annual survey on racist attitudes, published by the National Consultative Committee on Human Rights, showed no effect from the football triumphs. In 1999 and 2000, respondents expressed increased racism in spite of football." ...
RACISM LIVES ON IN FRANCE AS WORLD CUP WIN FADES
By Simon Kuper
Financial Times (UK)
November 12, 2005
The best advertisement for multicultural France has long been the French football team. The black, white, and Arab players singing the Marseillaise arm in arm embody France's ideal of fraternité. When they won the World Cup in 1998, it was considered a blow to Jean-Marie Le Pen's far-right National Front party.
Michèle Tribalat, a demographer specializing in immigration, said the team had done "more for integration than years of political will." President Jacques Chirac was among many eulogiZing "a tricolored and multicolored France."
Nobody is making those claims now. Tonight France plays Germany in the Stade de France, scene of its victory in the World Cup final, but also just miles from some of the fortnight's worst rioting. The ethnic ghettoes remain poor and isolated. Patrick Mignon, sociologist at France's national sports institute INSEP [=Institution Nationale du Sport et de l'Education Physique], says: "This idea of integration by football was an illusion. People in power seized on football as a type of 'miracle solution'."
The world champions, who added the European championship in 2000, looked the perfect symbol. Their parents or grandparents came from Guadeloupe, Martinique, Algeria, Argentina, Senegal, Poland, Portugal and Ghana. There were even some token white French players.
They were not merely great footballers but role models too. Zinedine "Zizou" Zidane, dutiful son of Algerian immigrants, has frequently been voted most popular Frenchman in the annual poll organized by the Journal du Dimanche newspaper.
Lilian "Tutu" Thuram, born in Guadeloupe, once an aspiring priest, was the team's intellectual. Thierry "Titi" Henry, the ideal son-in-law, whose mother came from Martinique, is as eloquent in the island's Creole as he is in French. Though the players emphasize their ethnic origins -- a relatively new trend in France -- all are French patriots.
Yet even they achieved little for integration. The first shock came in October 2001, when France played Algeria at the Stade de France. French youths of North African origin whistled at the Marseillaise before the match and later invaded the field, forcing the game's abandonment. The philosopher Alain Finkielkraut said France was almost "traumatized" by that match. "While our national team is the pride of multicultural France, this frightened many people."
The next year Mr. Le Pen finished second in the French presidential elections. Most observers had thought him gone, destroyed in part by the football team that he had disparaged before their World Cup win as foreign mercenaries who "don't sing the Marseillaise, or ignore it." Before the second round of the election, Zidane called on voters to disavow a party "that does not correspond to the values of France." The squad issued a statement against "racism and exclusion." Though Le Pen lost the second round, he had already shown that the team's propaganda had failed.
Experts already knew that. France's annual survey on racist attitudes, published by the National Consultative Committee on Human Rights, showed no effect from the football triumphs. In 1999 and 2000, respondents expressed increased racism in spite of football.
From 1999 onwards a new question appeared in the survey: Were there "too many players of foreign origin in the French football team?"
In 2000, 36 per cent of respondents totally or mostly agreed there were. They did not want a multicultural team, even if it was best in the world.
The team has spent most of this week on Martinique in the French Caribbean, where for the first time France played a match, against Costa Rica, to raise funds for the Martiniquais victims of a recent aeroplane crash. The French lineup -- a fairly representative one -- featured seven players of Caribbean origin.
Most come from poor suburbs similar to the ones now hit by riots. Several have expressed understanding for the rioters. Thuram, member of France's high council for integration, castigated Nicolas Sarkozy, the hardline interior minister, for having called the rioters "riff-raff." [NOTE: The word Sarkozy used was racaille. -- For more on this word and its use, see here. --F.M.]
Mr. Thuram responded: "I also grew up in a suburb. They said to me too: 'You're riff-raff.' But I'm not riff-raff. What I wanted was to work. He [Sarkozy] may not have grasped this subtlety."
Patrick Weil, political scientist at the university of Paris 1-Sorbonne, praises Mr. Thuram as "an intellectual," and says: "If he wants, I think he can be a [political] figure."
However "I never thought the World Cup '98 [win] was such a big event, because immigrants had always been presented as successful in sport, culture, music. The problem was not in these fields but in business, politics." Just as American racists managed to admire the likes of Mohammad Ali or basketball's Michael Jordan while disliking blacks in general, so French racists could love Zidane while disliking French Muslims.
Seine-Saint-Denis, the poor département that houses the Stade de France, may be the best example of football's limitations. The stadium was built partly to help lure companies to the area. It did.
However, the companies seldom recruit local inhabitants, who tend to be lowly skilled. These people need better schools rather than more football. Still, the game does have at least one use: Wednesday was a quiet night in Seine-Saint-Denis, perhaps "because of the France-Costa Rica football match", reported the local prefecture.