Olympic Games: should Russian athletes be banned from Paris 2024?

► “Penalize Russia, but not the athletes”

Vincent Chaudel, sports economist, co-founder of the firm In & Sport and the Observatory of sport business

“The political dimension of sport is obviously important. The Pierre de Coubertin spirit resided in taking advantage of sport so that there were clashes between countries, but peaceful clashes. Hence the principle of the Olympic truce which dates back to the Greeks. During the ancient Olympics, there was no war. The idea was to say “sport must allow confrontation between nations, according to rules”. Suddenly, the strength of sport is to allow a match between the United States and Iran, as was the case during the last FIFA World Cup in Qatar. It is to see Palestinians confronting Israelis. This is where the power of sport lies.

I am not in favor of a boycott of Russian athletes, as it stands. Even if I understand the state of mind at the moment and the importance of the struggle that the Ukrainians are waging against the Russian invader, as well as all the support of European countries for Ukraine, I think that depriving yourself of the lever of sport is not a good idea. On the other hand, I think that the sanction which had been imposed on Russia, at the Tokyo Games, in connection with state doping, was the right one. The Russian athletes had been able to compete, but without the honors given to Russia, that is to say without the flag and the anthems. In my opinion, this was the right position, because it puts the spotlight on a situation that is out of the ordinary. The idea is not to honor Russia, but without depriving the athletes who, on the whole, have nothing to do with it.

We must be aware of one thing: it is not because we are at war that there is no longer any diplomacy. We must continue to have contacts, and in particular positive contacts. In this area, sport can generate magnificent images, the space of a competition, through hugs or gestures of humanity that will thwart other images to which we are unfortunately accustomed since the beginning of the Ukrainian conflict. Shouldn’t you go to Berlin for the 1936 Games? Jesse Owens proved that it is.

Finally, in the world unfortunately, there are other conflicts. Why would the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the only real decision-maker on whether or not to welcome Russian athletes, take a position for this conflict and not for all the others present in the world? In the eyes of all, we would be explaining that the African dead or the Asian dead everywhere in the world would be less important than the Ukrainian dead. It is a European prism, and it is dangerous. »

► “We are not asking the same for other countries at war”

Pascal Boniface, geopolitical scientist and founder of the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris)

“President Zelensky is, as always, in communication. It is addressed to Emmanuel Macron and not to Tony Estanguet (president of the organizing committee of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, editor’s note)or Thomas Bach (IOC President, Editor’s note). But the one who can really answer him is Thomas Bach, surrounded by his board of directors.

By addressing the French president, he takes care of his communication with his own population. In Ukraine, for sure, some will think that it was Emmanuel Macron who refused his request and it will serve him at some point. But on the form, it obviously has no chance of being implemented. On this question, it is difficult to object to Zelensky that diplomatic channels should be maintained, because no one dares to tell him anything. He is the “courageous” president of a martyred country. We can therefore adhere or not to his demands, but it is impossible in the media to say that his demands are excessive, even when they are.

On the merits now, the request in itself is not legitimate. Russian athletes are not responsible for what their leader does. Putin’s regime is different from the Russian people. In 2003, no boycott had been decided for the Athens Games the following year, for the Americans and the British, who had nevertheless declared war in Iraq. The Games were even awarded to London some time later. Of course, Vladimir Putin committed an assault. Yes, it is against all Olympic principles. Yes, maybe some athletes have distinguished themselves by openly supporting their head of state in aggressive language, but it would be deeply unfair to Russian athletes, as a whole, to decide to ban them.

We did not ask for the exclusion of Ethiopia when it committed a massacre in Tigray or of Rwanda for what the M23 is doing in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo. You have to be vigilant with this very European-centric eye. When the Russian football team was excluded from the competitions, the decision was taken by UEFA and not by Fifa which, I think, would have probably taken another decision. It is clear that there is often a difference in judgment between Westerners and the rest of the world.

Finally, in a very practical way, such a decision, if it were to happen, would in any case be completely premature at this stage. We are a year and a half away from the 2024 Paris Games and given the way events have turned out since the beginning of the conflict, who can say today, with certainty, where we will be in a few months? »



Le Graët, Laporte… How to change the governance of sports federations?

► “The rather conservative world of sport is difficult to move”

William Gaspariniprofessor of sociology and sports sciences at the University of Strasbourg, specialist in sports governance

“The difficulties experienced by Presidents Noël Le Graët and Bernard Laporte in their football and rugby federations obviously raise the question of the evolution of governance within these institutions. But it is a cyclic questioning. In 2021, the renewal of presidents after the pandemic had already been the subject of a debate on the age of leaders and feminization… which had not prevented the broad re-election of Noël Le Graët, at 79 years old. The average age of sports leaders is still 64, although some federations have experienced a slight rejuvenation. In the end, there are only two women presidents out of 36 Olympic federations.

The question of the opacity of decision-making also comes up often, as does the absence of a limit to the number of terms served by the same president. These managerial techniques from another age appear to be out of step with the needs of more modern governance. The methods of internal appointment are also to be reviewed, because the elections often reveal a formal democracy, theoretical more than real. The cooptation system generally lacks transparency. In a general assembly of a departmental or regional committee, elected by the clubs, we often always find the same people, those who have time and are retired, out of step with the mass of young graduates. But without them, often volunteers, it must also be emphasized that the associative movement would not work.

Can the state reform this governance? We see it with the Le Graët case, he can actually demand accountability, since it is the State which delegates public service to the federations. But the latter are also very attentive to their autonomy and the State cannot interfere too much in their affairs. Above all, he cannot afford a general crisis with the sports movement within two years of the Olympic Games. In the case of football, the ministry is therefore calling on the authorities to move, in this case the executive committee of the federation, but I do not believe that the government is ready to go further.

He knows, however, that France is also watched with the organization of the Rugby World Cup in 2023 and the Games in Paris in 2024, and therefore he cannot let the image of sport continue to deteriorate. But the ridge line is hard to find. The rather conservative sports world is difficult to move. Ideally, the reform should come from the base, from athletes and clubs. But sport is not the sector of commitment and activism. So I don’t really believe it. »

► “The State cannot intervene in the internal management of a federation”

Bernard FoucherDoctor of Laws and President of the Federal Ethics Committee for French Rugby

“You have to keep in mind that the federations are associations under the 1901 law. The French Football Federation has its statutes, its members, like any association. The difficulty is that sport is a public service, which therefore comes under state management. The latter delegates its power to the federations, but retains a right of inspection, a power of supervision. The whole ambiguity is knowing how to combine the autonomy of associations and the powers that the state has. I believe that the difficulty lies in this duality.

The State officially recognizes associations and federations through approvals and delegations. It can impose a common framework so that the statutes of the federations conform to a standard statute. And, to obtain the delegation and the approval, it is necessary that the statutes are in conformity with the standard statute which the State imposes. The only thing that the State can do is therefore withdraw the approval and consider that the federation it wishes to sanction is no longer recognized as the depository of the right conferred on it by the State. But doing that is the atomic bomb assured. Furthermore, the State cannot intervene in the internal management of a federation. Only members of the federation can.

The law of March 2, 2022, aimed at democratizing sport in France, sought to impose more democratic governance on federations through these standard statutes. In particular with a limitation of mandates, the creation of ethics committees or the prevention of conflicts of interest. The federations are brought, if they want to preserve their approval, to be always in conformity with their statute.

Furthermore, each federation can adopt its own provisions without waiting for the law. There are systems that preceded what the law of 2022 imposed in terms of prevention. In the event of a problem, the ethics committee could intervene, but it all depends on how it works, which is specific to each federation. Regarding the rugby ethics committee, we do not have the possibility of making binding decisions. What we can do is give opinions, recommendations, injunctions, like asking someone to step back. You can also go to the Disciplinary Committee.

This is a real subject and it is an object of reflection with the State and the Minister of Sports: how to improve the functioning and the role of the ethics committees? The law made these mandatory in 2022, but how are they made? Are they really independent, with a minimum of power? It varies a lot from one federation to another. »



“Pelé was also a Third World hero, acclaimed as far away as Africa”

The almost simultaneous exhibition of the remains of Pope Benedict XVI and Pelé, the parades of the faithful at Saint Peter’s Basilica and at the Santos stadium, seem to invite a somewhat hasty parallel on the universality of two religions, one spiritual – Catholicism –, the other profane – football. Certainly, the real but also highly publicized emotion aroused by the disappearance of Edson Arantes do Nascimento, says Pelé, has to do with the veneration of saints or pagan deities in the country of syncretisms that is Brazil.

Nevertheless, if the Brazilian player embodied in his flesh and his muscles the joys of popular sport par excellence, he was only the king. But a king whose influence has gone far beyond the football fields.

The Brazilian Ambassador

Pelé’s career coincides with the time when Brazil revealed itself to the world through its music and its artists, its footballers and also its agribusiness and its first large industrial groups. Admittedly, the futuristic urbanism of Brasilia, the melancholy tunes of bossa nova had been obscured by the military coup of 1964. Emilio Garrastazù Medici notably during Brazil’s third world title in 1970 in Mexico City. But the joy generated by this triumph somehow escaped government control.

The recital given on this occasion by Pelé, who showed all his technical, physical and tactical genius, both scorer and playmaker, went beyond the scope of football. The dance led by the Auriverde team expressed popular culture and joy freeing itself from dictatorship and censorship. As such, Pelé was also a hero of the Third World, particularly in Africa where tens of thousands of people from Dakar to Kinshasa via Abidjan and Libreville, had welcomed their hero by chanting ” The king ! The king ! » during the tour of his Santos club in May-June 1967.

Other than Muhammad Ali and Garrincha

While black American athletes raised a gloved fist on the Olympic podiums or Muhammad Ali poured out provocations, Pelé led a fight for racial equality in his own way in a country where slavery had only been abolished. in 1888. He was able to capitalize on his sporting successes and did not end up in decline like his teammate Garrincha, who died of alcoholism and poverty in 1983. On the contrary, without neglecting charitable commitments in favor of children, he knew how to combine sport and business at the end of his career at Cosmos New York, when he became one of the first black sportsmen to sign a sponsorship contract with Pepsi Cola (1974).

Pelé broke not only the glass ceiling of poverty but also that of power by becoming between 1995 and 1998, Minister of Sports. Not for the glory of being handed a portfolio but to cleanse the Augean stables of corrupt Brazilian football. He wanted to impose transparency and professionalism, particularly in terms of the contractual conditions of the players. The so-called Pelé law voted in 2000 was however watered down against the wishes of its promoter.

In any case, the trajectory of the latter who first succeeded where his father had failed, by becoming a professional footballer, before becoming a planetary star, businessman and minister, while leading a rather quiet family life (two marriages), constitutes a example a way of life perfectly suited to a society marked by the evangelical ideology associating divine election and earthly success, adopted today by many Brazilian professional footballers.

Pelé or nostalgia for another football?

The tribute to Pelé is universal, but the number of people who have seen him perform live is not that great, despite the increase in life expectancy. Pelé therefore owes a lot to television, in particular color and to the satellites which transmitted and then preserved the memory of his exploits of 1970. Before him, the exploits of a Di Stéfano, a Puskas or a Kopa had benefited less of the grace of the small screen.

But if the emotion mediated by the news channels following minute by minute the deeds and gestures of its admirers, while bringing back the tributes of the greats of this world, marks the encounter between the historical time shared by all and the temporality specific to each individual, it also plays on nostalgia for a time that would be over. In this case, the Pelé case would feed the illusion of a time when football was more a game, less a business, when the stars were accessible and close to the people. No doubt we must be careful not to give in too much to an illusory nostalgia.

Pelé played at a time when football was violent and football artists were less protected by referees. Santos’ tours were primarily aimed at filling the club’s coffers and his adventure at Cosmos New York had a lot to do with the emergence of sports business. As for the emergence of Brazil, it was also carried by his compatriot Joao Havelange, president of Fifa from 1974 to 1998, a very ambiguous apostle of globalization opening Pandora’s box of certain evils which today affect the soccer. But Pelé’s legacy is elsewhere: with Brazilian football, the beauty of jubilant football and the journey of a man who knew how to overcome his condition and remain true to himself.



Health of athletes: should headers be banned in football?

► “A threshold should be set around 18-20 years old”

Jean-Chazal, neurosurgeon

“The brain is a fragile organ. Athletes protect themselves with muscles that they work on a daily basis, but a certain number of organs, including the brain, cannot build muscle and remain as they are. The brain remains in a box that is protected by the same envelope, regardless of the sport. In football, a header can lead to a micro-injury, albeit anecdotal. But the repetition of these mini-shocks can have long-term consequences.

Today, it is estimated that the brain reaches full maturation around the age of 35, which is equivalent to the age at the end of an athlete’s career. We manufacture interconnects up to 25 years. Banning headers in football in general seems impossible, but you have to be aware that the brain is all the more sensitive when the subject is young.

I would be in favor of setting a threshold. That around 18-20 years old, heads in football are prohibited. After all, in society, on a social or legal level for example, you have pivotal ages: you have to be 18 to vote because it is believed that this is the age when you acquire the necessary maturity. In sport, it should be the same. Given the fragility of brains, there should also be a pivotal age in sport. »

► “Better to monitor than to prohibit at all costs”

Benjamin Bazeillehead of the SU Dives Cabourg football school

“I know in Scotland they have legislation to ban heads before the age of 12. In France, this is not yet the case. It is quite common that we question, because of scientific advances, what was done before.

I knew as a young player, a football where you could make headers and I’m not doing badly today. As an educator, it’s complicated to teach a youngster not to make a head during the course of the game. If the latter finds himself in a position to score in this way, for example, how do you expect the message is heard?

In my sessions, I encourage young people to practice full football, but in training, I do not insist on this practice. So to speak, the specific workshops on heading game are very episodic. Over a month of sessions, we may do a single rehearsal for the heads. Moreover, young children rarely put this into practice: on corners or set pieces, they generally prefer to set foot.

One way or another, we will always find reasons to change football. Legislating on heads would be one of them and I don’t think it’s a good idea. It is necessary to supervise more medically the young people rather than to prohibit with all goes. »



Team sports: why is France so successful?

► It is the result of a system that is both public and associative

Emmanuelle Bonnet Oulaldj, co-president of the Sports and Gymnastics Federation of Labor (FSGT)

If we look closely at the results of recent years, France is world champion in team sports, at least in our sports, since there are sports that are not practiced in France. In all disciplines, it’s a bit the same recipes that work, thanks to the quality of the detection and training of young athletes.

It is difficult to distinguish one sport from another, but the French Handball Federation has succeeded in leading girls and boys to an Olympic gold medal, by putting the same means for women and men. .

We can also see in these successes the effects of the policy of high-level training that was put in place in the 1970s and 1980s. This has allowed part of French sport, in particular the collective disciplines, to build long-term strategies, which is essential. But the whole challenge for a sports federation is both to work on the next generation and to support the best, without putting anyone aside. I think it’s important not to cut high performance out of social practice. If we take the case of Great Britain, it certainly won a lot of medals at the London Games in 2012, but sport for all has not developed there.

Local authority support for small clubs

After the disappointing results of the Tokyo Olympics, the President of the Republic spoke of a form of privatization of the preparation of the next Olympics, saying that it is not public money that makes the results. I think, on the contrary, that if we privatize support for high performance, we will destroy this system which has worked and which is the result of a real public policy. It is a system that is both public and associative. Behind all this, there is an important issue: the support of local authorities for small clubs, which may be endangered with the increase in inflation and the fact that communities will have to refocus on their so-called “essential” expenses. “. Amateur sport risks suffering from this, while the base has already been abused during the Covid. Some volunteers never resumed their activities afterwards.

As far as football is concerned, it is obvious that the training system there produces excellent results. But it can also produce kids who will quit football early, because they aren’t deemed good enough. Before, many clubs had 2, 3 or 4 teams for these age categories, and there are fewer and fewer of them. This is precisely the role of my federation, to welcome all children. We really have to continue what has been done for the high level, but also support community life. Otherwise, we create inequalities.

► Generations rely on each other

Paoline Ekambi, former captain of the French basketball team (254 appearances), co-founder of Sportail Community

In France, I think we make a special effort to pass on the heritage of our sports, so that there is continuity between generations. We are part of a collective history where we follow in the wake of each other. As a handball spectator, I followed the exploits of the Barjots, the first French team to have won a world championship title in a collective sport, after which there were the Experts… In football, the generation of 1998 also was founding for the following champions, until the current team of France. It’s a long process.

For basketball, my generation (European vice-champion in 1993) represented the revival, passing from the semi-professional level to the professional level. Before us, the Demoiselles de Clermont were all amateurs. I was the second black player in the history of the France team. I was then part of the first promotions of sport-studies at Insep. Then, diversity has continued to enrich the range of talents. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, players from the former Soviet bloc, who dominated Europe, came to expand our championships. To the west, Italy and Spain were stronger. Then came Americans and players from sub-Saharan Africa, who brought a lot.

Early detection

At 14 and a half, I was discovered via the very first course reserved for large sizes. We were bigger players than our elders, and the girls who followed us gradually approached standards that could compete with the Americans. The same movement took place for the boys, with perhaps more media coverage, because the matches began to be broadcast on television on Canal+. Basketball owes a lot, for example, to presenter George Eddy, and to the exploits of the Dream Team.

I was the first Frenchwoman to play in the NCAA, the American university championship, but after me at the pivot position, there was Isabelle Fijalkowski, today a technical manager, and the first Frenchwoman to play in the WNBA. Clinics, which involved technical executives from the United States, have multiplied for the detection of talent.

Finally, all the expertise was added: physical and mental preparation, food hygiene… I think we should continue this momentum in the years to come. In Germany or the United States, sport and the world of school are one. In France, the mind and the body are still two things too often treated separately. It is indeed high time, even if we set ourselves the objective, to integrate sport into the development of the individual, and this from an early age.



“Macron transformed the post-match into a kind of unprecedented political meeting”

A few days before the opening of the World Cup in Qatar, Emmanuel Macron considered that it was not necessary “politicizing sports”. A month later, the progress of the World Cup final between France and Argentina gave him the opportunity for a denial by image. Indeed, the hundreds of millions of viewers around the world (certainly more than a billion) were able to see a president overwhelmed by emotion during the match and struggling on the lawn then on the podium, during the awards ceremony. .

A president, like any citizen, has the right to appreciate this sport and to be passionate about a final rich in twists and turns. But when we see him on the lawn affectionately embracing one of the best players in the world, displaying his closeness to the coach and having a chat in the locker room, it is indeed a political scene that we are witnessing. To make public a place, the changing rooms, reserved for the intimacy of the players constitutes in itself a political act. Social networks made no mistake about it by making a video viral, of which it would be interesting to know the author.

Sport, unfailingly political

Let’s reassure our president, sport has been unfailingly political since the end of the 19th century. It is so because the successive leaders have chosen to associate it with values ​​that everyone can adhere to, considered to be positive. Self-sacrifice, overcoming or the sanctification of merit are some of them regularly reactivated to give meaning to sport and consider that it is the vector of an exemplary social model. It does not matter if the sport is also something else, the goalkeeper of the Argentina team having reminded us of it until the crude caricature.

Despite the defeat, the President of the French Republic took the opportunity to highlight the unfailing commitment of our players who honored the national colors. Infantrymen of modern times, they fell on the sports field with honors and the spirit of sacrifice! The army chief seized the opportunity to salute his troops, to insist on the pride that must animate them and to remobilize them for future battles. The green rectangle was the field of expression of a striking political message. Going from player to player, it was about showing the attention of a president, often portrayed far from reality, for the sadness displayed on the faces of the protagonists. Certainly the country had been beaten, its players were in tears, but it was necessary to ensure that unity was maintained and that pride was intact.

political meeting

The president has therefore become the father of the nation in the service of his communication. The opportunity was too good, too rare and too big to pass up. His attitude left no doubt. The affection, the physical closeness and the remobilization in the locker room, everything was intended to refocus attention on the strong and active presidential figure in a moment of turmoil. The allegory was obvious: taking care of the representatives of the nation as he thinks he should do of the citizens, his activity appeared tenfold. Obvious but probably a little crude, and above all encountering unexpected reactions.

By wanting to be too close to the players… The image underlined that they tasted little of the presidential lessons, too busy to overcome their disappointment drowned in considerable physical and mental fatigue. Some may have grasped the instrumentalization in which they were invited to participate. The most attentive have seen that some have turned away from it. But most lent their image, perhaps unwittingly, to the political design. Without speech but thanks to the power of the image, this moment turned into a kind of unprecedented political meeting.

A twelfth player… in full contradiction

The post-match was therefore also played on the lawn but with a twelfth player not registered on the score sheet. If the third star had flown away, it was its star that had to be gilded again. The contradiction of the presidential word in the space of a month appeared on our screens for the worse. It would have been to the honor of Emmanuel Macron that it be for the best. Indeed, this very special moment after the final of a World Cup like no other could have been an opportunity to show support for the workers who sacrificed themselves to build grandiose stadiums, which one wonders moreover what they will be used for in the coming months.

To show our country’s attachment to the rights of men and women, of everyone. To distance oneself from authorities dressing the captain of the victorious team in a traditional outfit to be associated with an image that will go around the world and which will go down in history. In short, to assume the political dimension of sport in general and of this final in particular. Not to put it at the service of a person, whether presidential or religious, but of ideals that should not remain just words.



“This World Cup in Qatar was an opportunity to reconnect with the tradition of committed football”

Football is a sport with stars. If they are sometimes found on the jerseys, they are most often in the eyes of the supporters, who always have legendary goals, unexpected last-minute actions, happy memories or unbearable refereeing errors to relive with. passion. Football is a sport on a human level, of transmission and values, which has so much to tell us about ourselves and our societies and whose history is marked by times when the players in this sport who gathers have been able to live up to the political times, by assuming to convey committed messages to the stadiums.

I confess, these are my favorite stars, which the elders in our stadiums or in front of the TV at the local PMU have told us about. But when we are one day in our turn old, what will we have to say as great moments of committed football? Surely not episodes of this Mondial!

A World on a mass grave

Because we must remember once again this macabre truth: the organization of the World Cup in Qatar caused many deaths among slave workers. It is a documented fact which has legitimately raised indignation, in the same way as the human rights violations in a gazomonarchy trying to restore its image with this event, and in which the supporters, however so creative, are repressed stadiums if they arrive with committed messages.

We could have expected that this sport will revive its political role in 2022. Alas, from the French Football Federation to the President of the Republic, unanimity seems to reign around the invitation not to mix the field and politics, an injunction that the players of our national team follow assiduously.

Political hypocrisy

Today, we are told, football and politics should be separated. But then in this case why do the politicians rush into the stadiums? The same Emmanuel Macron who said a few days ago that“Do not politicize sport” did he not thus use Mbappé for his image during his passage on the channel of videographers McFly and Carlito?

Ultimate hypocrisy? In the clubs, the educators – and that’s good! – are invited by the FFF to make their young soccer players aware of the rejection of homophobia in sport, while the same institution invites our national team not to speak too much about state discrimination in Qatar. And the official silence is great for the slaves who died on the building sites!

If this World Cup was an opportunity for certain selections to express political opinions, with the gagged mouth photography of the Germans or the silence of the Iranians during their national anthem, at a time when theocracy is murdering its youth, we have to to see that the stadiums are less political than before and that the majority of the players are very shy… The opportunity to reconnect with the tradition of committed football was nevertheless historic.

When footballers signed up

There was indeed a time, not so long ago, when stadiums were important places of popular expression. How not to think, for example, of the immense Socrates – always with his fist raised to celebrate his goals! – and his teammates of the Corinthian Democracy, who had made football a tool of opposition to the Brazilian military dictatorship in the 1980s? How not to think of Carlos Caszely, who had refused to shake the bloody hand of Pinochet, when the latter had received the Chilean national team in his presidential palace while using the stadiums to park his thousands of opponents there? The USSR had also refused to send its national team to Chile in 1973, preferring to miss qualifying on the green carpet rather than sully the memory of the overthrown socialist Salvador Allende.

Beyond the single fight for human rights, football is also a place where social struggles are played out in our societies, as when Robbie Fowler celebrated his goal in the C1 quarter-finals with a jersey in support of the striking dockers from Liverpool, a gesture for which he had to pay a fine, or with the songs of Algerian supporters who punctuated the Hirak. Today, the key figure in committed football seems to be Megan Rapinoe, world champion with her team from the United States, who has attacked her federation to ensure that female players are paid as well as their male counterparts and who continues her fight for equal pay outside sport, around the slogan “Equal play, equal pay”.

Football will not heal all our fractures, far from it, but when players dare to say ‘no’ to the powerful, whatever the cost, they can contribute to bringing dignity and visibility if they accept to be involved. There are still a few days left of this World Cup with many deaths. Let’s hope for a jump from the players. Otherwise, for us nostalgic for committed popular football, only this cry will remain: “Socrates, come back! They have gone mad! »



“The social world, with its inequalities and low blows, suddenly resurfaces on a football field”

Is football a showcase of democracy? Like all sports, with their stadiums, it is only possible and thinkable in societies that make equality one of their principles. The popularity of sports, and football in particular, lies largely in their ability to embody the ideal of democratic-meritocratic societies by showing us, through their heroes, that “Anyone can become someone”, as Alain Ehrenberg writes. If Kopa, Pelé, Maradona, Ronaldo, Zidane, Messi, Griezmann… fascinate us, it is of course because of the quality of their exploits but also because we are certain that they “achieved” glory “by their own strengths and not because they were lucky enough to be well born, sons of…”.

A symbol of meritocracy?

It is, moreover, symptomatic that sports competitions took shape in societies with a democratic ideal: in ancient Greece (where, as Hegel notes, the principles of equality and individuality arose), in England of the XIXe century, even where social competition, the questioning of hierarchies are now thinkable. The very idea of ​​these championships, in which everyone is invited to participate, could only emerge in societies that make equality an ideal, if not a reality. Can you imagine serfs taking part in a tournament of knights? The answer is of course negative.

Another democratic virtue symbolized by football is fraternity, here team spirit. Just as much as individual performance, football values ​​collective work, solidarity, division of tasks, planning. The mottoes of many clubs (the “E pluribus unum” of Benfica Lisbon, for example) underline this necessary cohesion on the way to success in the stadium as in life.

We will castigate with equal virulence the unrepentant dribbler in search of an individual exploit and the player “too altruistic”, as the commentators say, preferring to “pass” rather than “shoot”. Football has thus become, beyond sport, the emblem of success in a democratic society. A success that also owes a lot, in such a society, to chance, to chance, other facets of success between individuals endowed with the same qualities.

Glaring inequalities

But practice contradicts these lessons of exemplarity. Democracy would stipulate that the teams compete on equal terms. However, that is not the case. If, through its principles, its heroes and its legends, football celebrates equal opportunities and solidarity, the social world, with its inequalities and its low blows, brutally resurfaces on the ground. Here, as in Animal Farm of George Orwell, some are more equal than others.

In France in 2022, the gaps between Ligue 1 clubs are considerable: PSG has a budget of 700 million euros, Clermont Foot 63 25 million, AC Ajaccio 22 million euros. Do we now compare teams with their respective tactical choices, with their stars of if not equivalent, at least comparable level, or do we compare budgets, the best-endowed clubs being certain of winning? This inequality, which is reminiscent of the social world, is opposed to the general rules of the game which assume equality of competitors at the start of the game, even if it means creating these conditions of equality, as in handicap horse racing.

Supporters left out

Another symbol, even more astonishing this one, of democracy, the groups of supporters. In general, only their noisy, even violent demonstrations are remembered from these groups. But their functioning, with their general assemblies, with their debates, recalls political life (however, let’s not go too far in this direction: some of these groups with their irremovable leader tend rather to oligarchy).

These groups claim to be more directly associated with the management of the clubs they support and for which they make significant sacrifices. Everyone feels that they are not recognized enough: “They treat us like the last wheel of the cart, while we are the ones who turn it”, they say; they claim to participate in the club’s management bodies. This participation is mandatory in Germany and Sweden: it is the 50+1 rule providing that a non-profit association holds the majority of the club, investors can only hold 49% of the shares. The big Spanish clubs (Barça and Real de Madrid) are also the property of socios who participate in the election of the leaders of the association.

The intervention of ultra groups in the events in Egypt, in 2011 to overthrow Hosni Mubarak, then Mohamed Morsi, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, then to oppose General Al Sissi, their role in Ukraine where they participated in the events of Maidan which led to the departure of pro-Russian President Yanukovych, and to the resistance against the Russian army, all these recent pages of history show what the involvement of supporters in political life can be. But these episodes, if they express an opposition to the imposed order, do not testify to democratic aspirations.



Human rights in Qatar: should players take a stand?

► Strong gestures in terms of communication

Jean-Claude Samouiller, President of Amnesty International France

On the side of Amnesty France, we would have liked there to be a strong sign from the players through an official declaration on the catastrophic situation of human rights. Otherwise, we would have liked them to wear the armband in support of the LGBT minorities who are persecuted in Qatar, but this highly symbolic act was obviously refused by the captain of the Blues, Hugo Lloris. In terms of communication, it would obviously have been very strong for the players to express themselves.

But, in reality, one can hardly ask them to boycott a competition for which they have sacrificed themselves for years and which undoubtedly represents the peak of their career. It’s buying a conscience on the cheap to ask our Blues to take a stand when we close our eyes to many other scandalous dealings, such as the companies that sell Rafales in Qatar. For the players, it is obvious that keeping quiet means ensuring a certain peace of mind. For example, it is difficult for a player like Kylian Mbappé, who is paid by Qatar within Paris Saint-Germain, to criticize his boss head-on.

Finally, at times, certain positions taken by the players of the France team have also been criticized. Some wondered why players were taking a knee to fight racism by specifically choosing one fight over another. There are always those who think that the French team is doing too much and those who think it is not doing enough. But basing that on 26 young people, aged between 20 and 30, is unreasonable. The players, who were barely 15 on average when the World Cup was awarded to Qatar, must not answer, coerced and coerced, for decisions made by others many years ago.

A reaction from the governing bodies

To be honest, beyond the players, we expected a lot more from Fifa and the French Football Federation (FFF). At Fifa, we have asked for the allocation of a fund of 440 million dollars to compensate the families of the workers who died during the construction of the stadiums. We will be vigilant about this. From the French Federation, we wanted proof that it was also vigilant on this point with international bodies and not with a view to permanent communication.

Many sections of Amnesty around the world, particularly in the countries of the North, have had contacts with the national federations of their countries, to obtain a symbolic gesture or a position. In France, our demands have remained a dead letter. There have been meetings but which have yielded nothing and it is clear that the staff of the France team and the players are padlocked today, if indeed they really wish to express something.

► Protesting is not in the tradition of French football

Francois da Rocha Carneiro, doctor in contemporary history and historian of the France team

Noël Le Graët, the president of the French Football Federation (FFF), seems to have a familiarity with the players. This can allow him to avoid a scandal and suggests a possible controlled silence on the part of the France team. But, to be honest, it’s not particularly in the tradition of French football to have players who rise up.

Generally, they only do so if they themselves are implicated. They are indignant or react to defend their image. This was the case of Raymond Kopa, in the 1960s, who left the selection in reaction to attacks from the coach and to protest against the status and image of the players, who were then in the hands of club leaders. We also remember the anger aroused by the remarks of Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the mid-1990s, who took the French team to task by evoking the “naturalization of convenience” of some players.

More recently, everyone remembers Knysna in 2010, during the African World Cup. We tend to see this event only from the angle of scandal – which suited politicians well that year – but in the end it was only a social movement towards a player who , after insulting his coach, had been sidelined.

Young players

For Qatar, remember that it was not the players who decided on the award. We identify footballers with stars having an opinion on everything, while we must also understand that they are employees. Even if their employers are the clubs, as part of the France team, Fifa remains their authority. Should they put themselves at odds with these authorities? In the name of values ​​that we certainly all share, should they risk sacrificing their careers?

Finally, we tend to assimilate the sportsman to an artist who must take a stand, but the sportsmen are generally very young. Thus, if Hugo Lloris is one of the oldest in the selection, with one of the biggest experiences in the France team, he must, as captain, remain vigilant not to put his younger or less experienced teammates in a delicate situation.

For the players, not taking a position will not particularly affect their image. It all depends, in reality, on what they will show on the pitch. If Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappé send France to the final and score a hat-trick on D-Day, no one will blame them for not taking a stand. If, on the other hand, the French team is eliminated in the first round, we will hear: “They didn’t even dare to speak. »



“If Qatar is unbeatable, it’s not just the World Cup that we have to boycott”

On November 20, the World Cup will open in Qatar. And already the controversy is launched: should we boycott it or not? What is being talked about is not the sports boycott, that is to say the fact that a qualified team does not go there, but rather the boycott by spectators or television viewers.

The argument of the host country which has no sporting tradition, used today against Qatar, has often been used in the past: this was the case against the United States in 1994 or Japan and South Korea in 2002. The choice of South Africa for the organization of the 2010 World Cup was accepted: it was time for an African country to host the competition.

Air-conditioned stadiums

Fifa wants to expand its empire. Awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar allows for the first time an Arab and Muslim country to organize the competition. Everyone now knows Qatar and, in this, the organization of the World Cup is a real success for Doha. But this visibility has also drawn attention to the less glamorous aspects of the country. The criticisms focus mainly on two issues, the climate issue and the situation of immigrant workers.

The stadiums are air-conditioned. In addition, many air travel will be necessary, some spectators being accommodated in neighboring countries. Such a situation is obviously open to criticism in view of the climatic situation, and the next competition to be co-organized by Mexico, the United States and Canada will be even more problematic. Concern for the environment has recently appeared with regard to the organization of sports competitions. This was not the case in 2010 when the World Cup was awarded to Qatar.

The situation of foreign workers

The other controversy Qatar is facing concerns the situation of immigrant workers. Qatar did not imagine, when it obtained the organization of the World Cup, that this subject would come to the forefront of the news. Undeniably, Qatar was slow to react. He finally made decisions that are visibly struggling to be fully implemented. Nevertheless, the kafala – system of guardianship of foreign workers – has been abolished and a minimum wage has been introduced. If the situation is still not satisfactory, it is, according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), better than in the other countries of the region.

On this subject, the World Cup has served as a lever, in particular for NGOs such as Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch, which have focused media attention on the plight of immigrant workers and continue to put pressure on Qatar.

Thousands of deaths over 10 years

the Guardian published a resounding article in February 2021 claiming that 6,500 workers had died at construction sites in Qatar. This is 6,500 deaths over ten years, not just on World Cup construction sites, but on all construction sites in Qatar. Without being really documented, this figure was taken up by a number of international media. For its part, Qatar recognizes that there were 38 deaths. This figure seems to greatly underestimate the reality. The ILO mentions the figure of 50 deaths for the year 2020 alone, but does not have statistics for previous years.

If we must obviously protest against the fate of immigrants in Qatar, we must also protest against their fate in the other Gulf countries and elsewhere. And, in the Qatari case, why only call for a boycott of the World Cup since the deaths on construction sites are not only linked to the work of the World Cup, but also to the construction of other infrastructures in the country, involving foreign companies elsewhere.

Stop selling him Rafale

If Qatar is an infrequent country, then it is not only the World Cup that must be boycotted. We should also stop selling it Rafale, Airbus and suspend the construction of infrastructure by Western companies in this country or even stop buying gas from it… Why are the calls for a boycott limited only to sport? The latter is systematically used as an adjustment variable for moral protests.

Everyone is free to watch World Cup matches or not. But it seems perfectly hypocritical to focus attacks only on the World Cup and keep quiet about the rest. Qatar is far from being a perfect country. It has a lot of progress to make, particularly with regard to human rights and environmental protection. The World Cup must be the way to push for this improvement rather than stigmatize the country. Especially when it comes to finding new gas supplies, having an intermediary in discussions between the various Chadian factions to negotiate a peace agreement or finding support in the evacuation of Western nationals from Kabul , Qatar appears to be a reliable partner.