Team sports are taking over the field of soft practices

The affair, for a long time, was heard. To get back to sport late in the day, or simply to talk without hurting your body too much, you didn’t have to look very far: focus on gentle disciplines, from Nordic walking to water aerobics, including yoga or all the sports. variants of indoor fitness. Sometimes group exercises, of course, but individual practices, always.

→ EXPLANATION. Covid-19: how to safely resume indoor sport?

This movement, accelerated by the multiple campaigns on “healthy sport”, the collective disciplines do not intend to let it pass. Even if the approach is not obvious at the start, because competition is not the alpha and omega of the practice; and that it is a question of addressing an audience of seniors, rather neglected until then.

Finally offer offers to seniors

Take football, for example. The story was played out at the end of 2017, in the Orne. On the side of Alençon more exactly, where Yannick Rouault then takes care of the football section at the Sports and Gymnastics Federation of Labor (FSGT). He has just discovered “walking football” in England, a football by walking which appeals to the over-50s across the Channel, with more than 1,000 clubs across the country. Prohibited from running, dribbling on obviously smaller grounds, in teams of five, trying to keep the ball as much as possible on the ground, the game seems ideal to this sixty-year-old who manages to organize a first meeting in June 2018.

“Other poles developed at the same time at the FSGT, in particular in Marseille and in Brittany, says Yannick Rouault. The advantage is that walking football also makes it possible to easily integrate disabled people and to develop co-education. In my club, out of about thirty members, there are five women. It’s very friendly, fun, it is aimed at people who have never played like former footballers who could no longer express themselves in a club. It remains to promote the discipline, to see the numbers swell. “

The FSGT does with its means, which are obviously not those of the French Football Federation (FFF). The latter has finally turned to this football while walking, which she looked down on when she first started out. “We realized that while we were very dynamic in our offers for people under 18, we were far behind seniors compared to other European countries., recognizes Patrick Pion, deputy national technical director of the FFF. We therefore offer several practices such as golf football (in which we replace the golf ball with a ball, editor’s note) and football while walking, which are a priority for us. We are going to distribute educational materials, train educators, because there are still only about a hundred clubs. “

Skills to look for

A certain enthusiasm, but still limited compared to the potential: this is the conviction of Chrystel Bernou, this time at the French Volleyball Federation, with the “soft volley” that she has been promoting for four years. A volley that this technical framework went to seek in Japan where the practice is paradoxically very oriented towards competition. For France, with this volleyball in teams of four, on a smaller field, a net only 2 m high, and a larger and softer ball, Chrystel Bernou wants to address seniors first. “Because, like the other federations, we still have a shortage of offers for the over 40s”.

As often, to adopt a gentle practice, you just have to test it. “Soft volley”, like certain adapted basketball formulas, is gaining supporters. “In the clubs where it takes, it takes very hard with very quickly dozens of participants”, says Chrystel Bernou. Which also raises limits. “Everything happens at the same time in the clubs: leisure sport, health sport, parasport, etc. It’s complicated to find niches in gyms to bring all these activities to life, with competent people to lead them. “

→ READ ALSO. Sport and health now has its reference dictionary

Attracting more seniors can however be a means of integrating into clubs a population capable of becoming involved as volunteers, or even as leaders. This is an issue that Patrick Pion takes into account at the FFF: “There is a reserve of skills there that we can use to found the club of tomorrow: a club really open to the whole family, where everyone can contribute to make a place of total life. “


Touch rugby, contactless rugby

Seniors are not necessarily the priority audience of the National Touch Rugby Federation, born in 2001 by importing this rugby of Australian origin which is played without veneer and without scrum. Because this avoidance game, of which the premier category is mixed, remains very demanding for its practitioners (2,000 in around 70 clubs). Nevertheless: in a context where the bad contacts of the traditional XV have more and more tendency to frighten, “We also have quadras and fifties in our clubs who can thus keep in contact with the oval”, underlines Thibault Zettel, federal responsible for development, who does not however speak of “soft practice”. The latter regrets the lack of exchanges with the French Rugby Federation, which is focused on a fairly similar variant, V-rugby, a French exception.



The puzzle of multi-sport cities

Bordeaux of crying football, Bordeaux of laughing rugby. Sport has dominated the Gironde news for days, with on the one hand the semi-final of the European Rugby Cup, this Saturday 1er May, between the Union Bègles-Bordeaux (UBB) and the Toulouse Stadium, and on the other hand the placing under supervision by the commercial court of the football club, after the defection of the American owner. Twelve years ago, the situation was the opposite: the local ovale was at the bottom of the hole, while the navies were crowned champions of France (in 2009) with the money of the audiovisual group M6.

“All the mayors and sports assistants in large cities are paralyzed by what is happening in Bordeaux, at the idea that it could happen to them”, underlines Patrick Appéré, sports assistant in Brest and vice-president of the National Association of elected officials in charge of sport (Andes). Even the champion city of France in all categories, Montpellier, which hosts no less than five high-level professional clubs in football, rugby, handball, basketball, volleyball, looks with concern towards the Gironde.

“In Bordeaux, they took big risks”

“They took big risks by giving the keys to their football club and their stadium to American financiers”, underlines Christian Assaf, vice-president of the Montpellier metropolis in charge of sport. Former first deputy of Georges Frêche, mayor from 1977 to 2004, Christian Assaf had a front row seat to assist in the development, under the leadership of his boss and Louis Nicollin, a local businessman in search of public markets, “What was then a sleeping beauty in terms of sport”. “It was give and take, he recounts. Today we could not do like that legally, but the philosophy remains unchanged: our clubs are in the hands of locally established bosses who will never leave with the fund. “

The example of Lyon, which has a Ligue 1 club, Top 14, but also women’s and men’s Pro A in basketball (in collaboration with Villeurbanne) speaks volumes. In the 2000s, the lawyer Thierry Braillard became deputy for sport (he will be minister under the five-year term of François Hollande) and will influence the rebirth of Olympique Lyonnais which vegetated in Ligue 2 when it was bought in 2004 by Jean-Michel Aulas. Same story with the LOU, a modest university rugby club, acquired by Olivier Ginon, the boss of the Lyon company GL Events. Or for Asvel Lyon-Villeurbanne, a basketball team taken over by Tony Parker.

→ ANALYSIS. Basketball: under the French baskets, the recovery

“Lyon is by virtue of its size the example which brings France closer to our European neighbors where the cities are larger and more multisport, because there is easier convergence between politics, the economy and a sufficient population base”, underlines Christophe Lepetit, head of studies at the Center for Sports Law and Economics. Beyond the critical size and the economic equation, it urges elected officials to reflect on the social utility of these clubs and their consistency with the local culture and the political project of the moment.

Elf Aquitaine brings football to Pau

“Bordeaux, Toulouse and Montpellier were rugby towns due to the English influence in the South West and the university culture of the sport, which was reserved for the elites in its infancy. Football came later, with industrialization and the need to provide an offer for the workers. In Pau, it was Elf Aquitaine who brought football ”, explains the professor in sports marketing, Michaël Tapiro.

The double, triple or even quadruple sport transplant only works if it clings to a cultural trunk. The so-called BHV sports – basketball, handball, volleyball – have often joined football or rugby towns to set up women’s teams or make young people from the neighborhoods play. This is the case in Patrick Appéré’s Brest where the women’s handball team, leading the French championship, is just as much the pride of the city as the hundred-year-old local football club. “The financial risks are beyond measure but the image benefit is important: a sports city attracts young people, executives and activity”, continues the vice-president of Andes.


The thorny subject of stadiums

Only two professional clubs are, according to the Center for Sports Law and Economics, 100% owners of their premises: Lyon in football, Clermont in rugby, a third being on his way to Montpellier for football. Elsewhere, different types of contracts bind clubs and municipalities: classic rental, long-term lease called emphyteutic, concession to a manager promoter … But the future of these costly for public finances is to own ownership, at least for powerful clubs. The mayor of Bordeaux will try to sell the stadium to the future buyer of the club, and that of Marseille has announced his desire to sell the Vélodrome stadium.



Sports champions increasingly in the field of civic engagement

The 2022 World Cup in Qatar? A very bad idea if we are to believe Toni Kroos, midfielder of Real Madrid and playing master of the German selection. For three reasons, he said in a podcast on March 30: “The first is the unacceptable working conditions on stadium sites (…) then the fact that homosexuality is penalized and punished in Qatar (…) and finally, that it is not a football country. “ Close the ban.

Such a clear position taken by an international football star is rather rare. But the German is not alone. A few days earlier, his teammates against Iceland in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers had exhibited a black T-shirt defending human rights before the match. Such messages were also carried by the eleven of Norway and that of the Netherlands.

→ READ. Football: should we boycott the 2022 World Cup in Qatar?

Obviously, the commitments of athletes are increasing, often for great causes, sometimes more political, such as the decision in December 2020 of the French international Antoine Griezmann to break a contract with the Chinese brand Huaweï in support of the Muslim minority. Uyghur persecuted in China. Over the past few months, they have been drawing a new desire for expression.

Social networks and the “woke” movement

“Athletes aspire to a broader civic engagement, especially in the societal field, and ask for it in most of the surveys carried out on the subject by the International Olympic Committee or the National Olympic Committee. On political or religious questions, they are more reserved ”, observes Stéphane Diagana, world champion in 1997 in the 400 m hurdles. He takes part in the discussions launched by the IOC Athletes’ Commission around the possible relaxation of Rule 50 of the Olympic Charter, which restricts the expression of athletes on the venues or podiums of the Games.

Why this rather recent craze, which goes well beyond traditional charitable commitments to associations? “The major change comes from social networks, on which they can express themselves on their own initiative and without filter, notes the consultant-trainer Carine Bloch, member of the scientific committee of the Sport and Citizenship think tank. Their agents or sponsor partners have also understood the value of sometimes positioning themselves on certain themes. And then there is a demand, often from a young audience, which expects a position from athletes today, like artists yesterday. “

William Gasparini, sociologist and professor at the Faculty of Sports Sciences at the University of Strasbourg, for his part evokes the “Woke atmosphere, this awakening of consciousness on great causes which comes to us from the United States and which greatly influences young athletes. Winning is no longer enough, you have to express yourself. This is often sincere, but we can also note that while the major environmental causes or the fight against racism are often explored, commitments against social inequalities or the excesses of capitalism remain rarer. Footballers are not legion today to speak out against the Super League. “

The necessary support for champions

New president of the Licra sport commission, Rachel Khan also observes with kindness this “Freedom of speech which is always an excellent thing to advance fundamental rights. But be careful not to import from the United States a culture of engagement that is not necessarily in line with our European universalism., underlines the jurist-essayist. We can also ask ourselves the question of the support of champions on these subjects, in particular by the sports federations which are often too discreet in the matter ”.

The institutions are indeed still very impregnated by the traditional culture of the sport which should remain in its corridor, being preoccupied with performances before anything else. Some newly elected leaders, however, are promoting a different narrative. “Federations can have a role to play in education and training, advances Stéphane Diagana. The challenges of communication and management of notoriety are much broader for athletes today than yesterday. Perhaps we should better register them in the path of high-level athletes? Who for their part must also pay attention to the injunctions to take a stand that are starting to appear, especially on social networks. A kind of freedom of non-expression is also at stake. There are punches to be taken, especially in an era of polarized debates. It is up to athletes to find the balance. “


Relevant institutions

“By expressing themselves more, champions also help change society’s vision of sport. If we are not considered essential today in this health crisis, it is because we are probably not getting involved enough in the citizen debate. “ New president of the French Badminton Federation, Yohan Penel is part of this generation of federal bosses who campaign for a more societal anchoring of sports institutions. The general assembly of its federation on April 17, moreover, for the first time set objectives of “Social performance” : “The club of tomorrow is one that is capable of taking action for, for example, isolated people, migrants, the homeless, he assures. All of this helps to forge another image of sport, and top-level athletes obviously have their role to play in this process. “



A new wind shakes the elections in the sports federations

He held the rope firmly, he did not let go. Philippe Bana was elected on Saturday November 28 as president of the French Handball Federation. At 63, the irremovable technical director since 1999 is well ahead of his two opponents with 57.5% of the vote, and can breathe. He at least is not carried away by the wind of freshness which agitates the sports movement this fall.

The fact that, for the first time, the campaign was tough and between three candidates – in a federation accustomed to unanimous crownings – shows that the lines are moving. Elsewhere, other representatives of the system in place did not resist like Philippe Bana, who presented at least a flattering sporting record. On the tatami, Stéphane Nomis, 50, ex-blue from the 1990s who became an IT entrepreneur, defeated a Jean-Luc Rougé pretending to a fourth term and in the judo house since the 1980s. On the fencing side, Bruno Gares, 55, a former gunsmith for the French teams, prevented an Isabelle Lamour from aligning a third term in a row.

The Covid-19 accelerator

“The desire for renewal is a classic aspiration, the typical president being in the federations a man aged on average from 64 to 66 years old and running for a third term., underlines the sociologist William Gasparini, specialist in the governance of sports institutions. But this time the aspiration is all the more present as new challenges arise in terms of feminization, professionalization, adaptation to new practices, and this in a context disrupted by the Covid-19. “

Most Federations are, in fact, faced with significant redundancies and a terrible economic turmoil. But not only. The evil is also psychological, the morale of the volunteers appearing more and more leaden. “The pandemic has played a role of accelerator by highlighting the impossibility of continuing with a sport still dominated by the high level, analyzes Yohan Penel, 36, one of the three candidates for the presidency of the French Badminton Federation. Admittedly, the consideration of health sport or leisure sport among others, is present in the speeches, but most federations only tackle these subjects at the margins, without real global plans. “

Finally, take social performance into account

To change the situation, Yohan Penel proposed a “Citizen call” signed by some federal candidates such as Stéphane Nomis, new president of judo. The only contender declared for the moment for the presidency of the French Equestrian Federation, Anne de Sainte-Marie, 36, former director of the Cense stud farm, also a signatory, shares this desire to review the traditional sporting model. “We have had pioneers who have done a wonderful job, but whose ideas have dried up, with outdated management, difficulty in understanding societal changes, she blurted out. The number of licensees is important, but cannot be the only indicator. What interests me is the quality of life of my club leaders, which includes economic, ethical, etc. issues. “

For William Gasparini, the sports movement is crossed by a dynamic seeking to take better account of social performance. “ Medals and sports heroes are obviously still essential, supports the sociologist, but the societal dimension also requires mobilization: healthy sport, with a diversified offer and above all trained educators who are not competition coaches; the integration of young people, in difficult neighborhoods but also in the countryside; citizen sport, very important in the fight against radicalization; feminization finally. Do we need a new generation of leaders for this? I do not know. But we see that some of the answers go through digital technology, and that at this level, there is a real divide. “

Would sport be affected by degagism? “It is a real risk, but it is limited by respect for inheritances and people, swears Anne de Sainte-Marie. The opposite risk also exists: that of making major cultural errors. “ Refocus therefore, more than anything to revolutionize. “ But with determination, advocates Yohan Penel. Because to change in my opinion, it’s now or never. The latter evokes “The prospect of the 2024 Games”, but not only : “This time, if we do not manage to put sport in its rightful place by showing how it can respond to current social issues, I fear that afterwards it will be too late. “


The National Olympic Committee, the other essential campaign

“An educational, social, health, societal and economic objective. “ This is the mission that Patrice Martin wants to assign to sport, who announced in mid-November his candidacy for the French National Olympic and Sports Committee (CNOSF). The president of the French Water Ski Federation since 2009 is currently the only candidate for the election scheduled for June 29, 2021. Because it is the other electoral campaign that looms after those of the federations. It will also be a question of adaptation to the current world, with major issues such as feminization or the place of e-sport which, again, shake up traditions.