The somewhat crass observation that the French national football squad is jam-packed with second and third generation immigrants - made initially by Jean Marie Le Pen and pointlessly echoed by rent-a-gob Languedoc Regional President Georges Frêche last November *(1) – was the subject of a recent exchange of views on the G.U.*(2) Sportblog.
Perhaps to dignify the aforementioned racists’ dimwitted musings with any kind of a response is a mistake. The salient point is that there appears to be relatively little discrimination – on a race or a class level - within French sport itself.
Sad to say that, much like our culinary skills, the U.K. doesn’t compare too favorably: anyone for envisaging a 'Hussein Hill' anytime soon? Doubtful. Now juxtapose that unlikely image with Yannick Noah’s Davis Cup winning exploits with France, sixteen years ago.
Down in the rural, rugby-obsessed, south west of France, the common man dreams of one day representing his country; and it might just happen. In the UK, however, up until Rugby Union turned professional in 1995 your average England prop may have looked like a Geordie bouncer, but he spoke like Hugh Grant’s butler. These southern-softy’s day jobs often provided an echo of the sport’s public school heritage; there were no miners to my memory. Perhaps it’s a little misleading to reference the class schism in English Rugby, given that northerners have been able to represent Great Britain via Rugby League, but my League playing grandfather would turn in his grave at the thought of Andy Farrell migrating over to “that other code”: a prejudice I always suspected grew out of bitter envy as much as anything else.
The U.S. doesn’t tend to hold up many obvious class barriers in its sports. But they have had their fair share of racial controversies (Baseball’s history of segregation; the paucity of black quarterbacks in American Football’s hall of fame). In Basketball, blacktop courts require relatively little financial investment, and inner-city kids make good use of these facilities. Michael Jordan wannabees are told that a successful career in sports is but a hoop dream and that a decent education should be their priority, but for a lot of poor Black kids there’s about as much chance of making the NBA as there is getting an MBA. Anyhow, what would rather be when you grow up, point guard or neurosurgeon? All of which provides a convenient segue into boxing; the brain-shakin’ craze that is creeping its way back into some UK inner-city schools *(3).
Boxing generally produces polarized opinions. Detractors say we are arming our kids with potentially lethal weapons, and how about those health risks? The yes camp have countered that we are simply giving our kids the discipline – as the Daily Mail might have it – that is sorely lacking at home and in the classroom.
What I’d like to know is; why has nobody thought to introduce a less stereotypically working-class pastime into the sports curriculum? Croquet, for example, could be a huge hit in our comprehensives: the risk being that it might give rise to a whole new set of hoop dreams, or - worse still - a sudden surge in Mallet attacks. Luckily, in our divided society, we’ll probably never know the true dangers of child croquet.
References if needed: