“The World Cup is the last event that unites the nation to this extent”

FIGAROVOX/SERVICE – The essayist sees a reaction to the downgrading of the country, as well as the elevation of sports values, in the excitement surrounding the performances of the French football team in the World Cup.

Éric Naulleau is a columnist and essayist. He has a new publication with Michelle Onfray It remained fireproofPublished by Bouquins publications.

LE FIGARO. – Can we see the Football World Cup as a vector of national unity that unites all social classes around the same goal?

Eric Naullo. – It really is becoming more and more. The stadium has always been a place where social classes mix, but what has changed today is that women are also included in the mix. More and more women are interested in football and playing football, coming to the stadiums to increase the number of supporters, while for a long time this passion remained only with men. However, this idea of ​​social confusion should still be relevant. In clubs, for example, matches are becoming increasingly expensive, subscriptions are not available to everyone.

But the World Cup remains one of the last events to unite an entire population to such an extent, while the trend is toward ghettoization. When you go to the theater, for example, you see a kind of audience, there is no confusion; the same for stand-up, which unites only one category of the population; we observe the phenomenon of social bubbles. Therefore, football is, unfortunately, the exception that proves the rule. And if it retains this unifying status, it’s because it has something so universal, so simple. When you’re a kid, all you need is a bouncy ball, two sweaters to score goals on, and you’re good to go. Anyone can play.

Doesn’t this general enthusiasm, which we observe in every world championship, in every international competition, show the need for the French to be proud of their country?

To be honest, this popular emotion takes on different meanings depending on the era. In 1998, there was this famous slogan “Black-white-beur”. In 2022, it is very different. The signs of the downgrading of the country are increasing: the nuclear sector, which makes us proud in terms of energy autonomy and military sovereignty, has been destroyed; the level of grammar and spelling is collapsing, and the French language is the heart of our country… It is very difficult for the French who experience a real sense of inferiority. So, it is really necessary to be proud of this country again, to show its greatness. Football remains a field of excellence, no one has equaled us in the World Cup for the last 25 years. But this overloads the French team, because it is required to symbolically correct all these signs of decline, to return France to its lost greatness, to compensate for all these declining sectors with excellence. There is a lot of outside pressure, the players cope with it very well, Kylian Mbappé does not show any particular signs of stress and Olivier Giroud remains steadfast.

I don’t understand why we raise fascist cases against those who boast about our greatness, there is nothing unhealthy about it, the country would be better off if we could express this pride a little more.

Eric Naullo

We are also witnessing the emergence of new, more problematic events in this World Cup. On the one hand, we observe the attempt of the extreme right to make Olivier Giroud the representative of traditional Christian France. On the other hand, we see the Moroccan footballer dedicating his victories to the entire Arab world and Muslim countries, which is quite strange. Therefore, I have the impression that the national aspect outweighs the religious aspect. This is a new phenomenon that I find very problematic, it was not the case in 2018, much less in 1998. The current epic of the French team takes on a whole new meaning.

Today, nationalism is perceived quite negatively, doesn’t football allow for the exaltation of soft, watered-down patriotism that goes through the game and referee conflict?

Indeed, this is a symbolic confrontation, a sport, a confrontation where, contrary to what you see in Ukraine, all strikes are not allowed. There is no arbitrator in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, you can bomb civilians, infrastructure… The World Cup is a civilized way to face each other and I have no problem with that. When it comes to football, I am very chauvinistic, but that does not make me a nationalist, a Mauritian or a fascist, it is true patriotism. I am proud of the French team and I consider it a very honorable way to express my commitment to my country. Likewise, I think we should be proud of French literature, culture and architecture. I don’t understand why we raise fascist cases against those who boast about our greatness, there is nothing unhealthy about it, the country would be better off if we could express this pride a little more.

The football field is a miniature image of humanity, where we see the worst, the best, face all situations, experience all feelings… It is the real school of life.

Eric Naullo

What do you think of the relationship between football and politics with Emmanuel Macron reaching the semi-finals in 1998, or Jacques Chirac and Lionel Jospin, who largely delivered the victory of the Blues in 1998, which boosted their popularity chances. What inspires you?

Politics and sports have always been closely linked, it’s an old story. The 1938 World Cup held in Italy had strong political significance; Same for being used as a political symbol by the military junta in Argentina in 1978; According to Putin, the 2018 World Cup was intended to overshadow the annexation of Crimea. We can reject examples forever, all world cups have been political. I consider it normal that the President of the Republic comes to support his team. When it comes to popularity curves, of course, good performances have a positive effect, but this is very temporary.

Albert Camus, a big football fan, said As much as I know about morality, I learned it on football fields». Isn’t this sport also an expression of common values? And which ones?

Albert Camus’s sentence is very true, things happen on the football field that go far beyond the game. Some people like to criticize them. “Adults throw a ball”, but you should never play this sport to reduce it to such a caricature vision. Personally, I played in the club for a long time and I learned something that sticks with me and you don’t find it anywhere else except in the army, which is unconditional support for the uniform. We are willing to harm ourselves on the ground, to die symbolically to cover up for one of our partners, to offer him a way out, to support him… I have kept this idea of ​​unconditional solidarity to some extent, especially in my friendships, good or bad , I never leave my partners. I was brought up with this sport, the football field is a microcosm of humanity, we see the worst and the best there, we face all situations, we experience all feelings… It is the real school of life.

But have you, like Camus, ever thought of a career as a football player (laughs)?

You know, I’m 60 years old, which is usually too old to start a sports career. But inside, to give you an honest answer, I have never completely given up on the idea of ​​winning the World Cup one day, and I think I will die without giving up. Hope gives life. In fact, I did not have the necessary level and never had.

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