International Papers

Les Bleus et Les Noirs

Jean-Marie Le Pen’s shock second-place finish in the first round of France’s presidential election (see Monday’s “International Papers“) still dominates the European press at week’s end. Several papers contrasted the apparent rise in support for Le Pen’s anti-immigrant policies with France’s passion for its multi-ethnic national soccer team. The squad—which features players with roots in Algeria, the Antilles, Ghana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, New Caledonia, and Senegal—has already served as a target for Le Pen. The Independent recalled his statement from 1996: “It’s artificial to bring foreign [football] players here and baptise them the French team, though I could think of other names for them. They put an Algerian in to please the Arabs, a Kanak who can’t even sing the National Anthem, blacks to satisfy the Antillais. None of them has any place in a French team.”

Sweden’s Dagens Nyheter looked back to the celebrations following France’s triumph in the 1998 soccer World Cup, where they were led by playmaker Zinedine Zidane: “The Arc de Triomphe was decorated with a large sign with the text ‘Zidane—president.’ Half seriously, half in fun, the people wanted to see the son of a poor immigrant from Algeria, born in one of Marseilles’ tough suburbs, as the country’s leading man. Jean-Marie Le Pen was in the doghouse.” (Translation courtesy of BBC Monitoring.) A Guardian columnist concurred, “Four years ago, things looked very different. France’s Rainbow Team was on its way to conquering the world, and such was the growing euphoria that a group of footballers appeared to be responsible for establishing nothing less than a template for a modern society.”

On Wednesday, Britain’s Sun declared: “They are the reigning World and European soccer champions—a team of stars worshipped by fans from around the globe. But imagine the French national side, Les Bleus, stripped of their best players … because of their immigrant backgrounds. That is the sort of France right-wing racist Jean-Marie Le Pen would like to see if he is made President.” The editorial also featured a photograph with the team’s five non-white players “blacked out” and one man marked “doubtful.”