Contemporary French Civilization

Racism and the specter of "dual nationality" in French football

Contemporary French Civilization (2014), 39, (1), 111–132.

Abstract

On 28 April 2011, Mediapart – an online magazine focusing on political andcultural debates in France founded in 2008 – released a report accusinghigh-ranking members of the French Football Federation of havingdiscussed the creation of “quotas” aimed at limiting the number of blackand Arab football players in national training academies. The Mediapartreport was striking because it suggested that racist ideas had becomenormalized at the highest levels of the French Football Federation (FFF).Racist commentary on the French team has a long history, and reached adangerous peak during the 2010 World Cup fiasco: at one point in late Juneof that year, a small crowd of protestors entered the FFF headquarters,demanding that it create a team that was “white and Christian” by “firing”the “blacks and Arabs.” But to see such rhetoric articulated at the highestlevel of the French Football Federation was much more significant. It constitutednot only a striking violation of the principles of equality thatsupposedly form the basis of French political life, but also the principles ofsport.This article attempts to address this issue by exploring the allegations indetail and situating them within the history of French football and thecontemporary political situation in France. A major factor to consider is theaftermath of the poor and controversy-ridden performance of the Frenchteam in the 2010 World Cup, which generated its own political scandal. I willargue in part that, in the wake of these events, the FFF fell into the classictrap of finding scapegoats and alibis rather than confronting its own scleroticinstitutional culture, which has failed to generate any significantdiversification within its administrative ranks. By blaming “blacks” and“Arabs” for causing problems for French football, they slipped into a realmwhere racial typologies have replaced broader institutional analysis andcritique.

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Dubois, Laurent