French Quota Flap Is About More Than Soccer

The recent scandal over proposals to limit the number of black and Arab players in French soccer has blown over, but it reflects the growing xenophobia and racism fed by the political right, says this French politician.

Getty Images

The second big change in the last decade is the rise of right-wing politics: President Nicolas Sarkozy cultivates a paradoxical role. He has named more minorities than any previous president to cabinet posts. The most symbolic appointment was Rachida Dati (a French Arab) as minister of justice, the third most important cabinet post.

And yet Sarkozy is also the president who has reinforced social and identity divisions in French society. He has divided in order to better control, to appear later as the unifier of the country at a time when the extreme-rightist National Front is making rapid gains.

During his 2007 presidential campaign, Sarkozy spoke of “a France that gets up early and a France that gets up late,” implying that the slackers were benefiting from the country’s generous social system, and more often than not that they were of different cultures than “the real French.” As interior minister in 2005, he talked of cleaning the ghettos of “scum” by using high-pressure hoses. Not surprisingly, the social and economic crises have hardened this xenophobia.

It’s no surprise that the national soccer team, the symbol of the nation, couldn’t escape this rising tide. What university would want to limit the number of blacks on its basketball team to 30 percent? Yet that’s the decision the French Football Federation wanted to take — a decision disconnected from any sports fundamental and more concerned about protecting white players.

Just having 11 soccer geniuses on the field is not enough to win. You need a strategy for victory. Today there is no longer any collective ambition to forge a common destiny in France. The FFF has lost its way in sports. The elite of French soccer think not of the sport but of their own interests, the interests of “the family,” as they call one another. In fact, they have joined the same dysfunctional self-interest that plagues our elites, especially in politics.

In truth, the scandal has nothing to do with sports. The real scandal is that soccer has become another ghetto: The majority of kids who want to become players come from poor communities — where most of the people are immigrants. Soccer is a schoolyard sport that costs nothing, which is why the masses have embraced it. But now it is becoming the sport of the wannabe “nouveau riche.” Parents in affluent neighborhoods prefer to see their kids playing tennis or rugby, performing on tatamis or in gyms rather than in soccer stadiums.

French society has never been so divided. Soccer once had the capacity to bring the nation together. Now I am convinced that Marine Le Pen, leader of the extreme right, would like to see herself as the team selector for the country, committed to the defense of “white France.”

Alain Dolium is a French entrepreneur and a member of the Mouvement Démocrate (MoDem), a centrist political party.

Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.