Booing the National Anthem? France Says Next Time They’ll Take Their Ball and Go Home
This video was taken before Tuesday’s France-Tunisia game at Stade de France in Paris. The Marseillaise, the French national anthem, was booed. Loudly. And the politicians are NOT happy about it. They’re so unhappy, in fact, that they’re saying that the next time it happens, the game will be shut down.
“Any match when our national anthem is whistled will be stopped immediately,” [French Sports Minister Roselyne] Bachelot said after talks with Sarkozy and French Football Federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes. Government members will immediately leave the arena where our national anthem has been whistled. When whistling of our national anthem happens, all friendly games with the country concerned will be suspended for a period yet to be determined by the federation president.”
I think we can all agree that booing a national anthem is wrong. Always. Not only is it disrespectful to the host nation, it’s horrible and vicious to put the players and the singer through it. But the reality of what’s going on in France is…complicated.
This kind of booing/whistling tends to happen most frequently in friendlies with former French colonies, like Tunisia, or Morocco. France’s relationship with the former citizens of its former colonies is…complex, as is its relationship with its football team, many of whom descend from these former colonies.
At games like France-Tunisia or France-Morocco, half or more of the fans are rooting for the away team. France has a fairly open immigration policy to residents of its former colonies, but this doesn’t mean that it’s easy to be accepted into the culture. Many African immigrants find themselves living in France, but still on the outside. An excellent article on the issue in Time World says:
But those remedies may be missing the cause of the problem. Most of the booing came not from visiting Tunisians, but from fans born and raised in France. Such booing has come to be used by ethnic-Arab French soccer fans to protest the racial, social and economic discrimination suffered by those not fortunate enough to be among the stars of les Bleus. It’s hardly coincidental that previous outbreaks of anthem booing (and resulting expressions of indignation by politicians) occurred before a France-Algeria match in 2001, a France-Morocco game in 2007, and a 2002 French Cup final orchestrated by fans of pro club Bastia, who defiantly played up Corsica’s reputation as being France’s non-Arab “enemy within”.
The Corsican exception apart, booing France’s anthem has become an effective tactic for drawing attention away from the largely black and Arab faces that defend France’s honor on the soccer field, and back to the communities from which they come in the decrepit housing projects surrounding the Stade de France and other suburban stadia. On Tuesday night, the protest carried a sharper edge, given the fact that the anthem was being sung by Franco-Tunisian R’n'B artist Laam, whose own childhood was marked by poverty and hardship.
Adding to the complexity of the situation is the fact that the Marseillaise, the French national anthem, is very much a war song that doesn’t always resonate well even with some of the ethnic French — some of whom can also be seen booing the national anthem. The chorus translates to:
To arms citizens Form your battalions
Let impure blood
Water our furrows
And things are further complicated by the fact that this doesn’t just happen when France plays its former colonies. The Marseillaise was also booed and whistled in Spain before friendly earlier this year.
So, on a practical basis, what does this mean? Will they really cancel games if it happens again? How will they decide? At what level of disrespect will they pull the plug? One person booing? A thousand? Ten thousand?
I know that I’ve timed two trips to France so that I could take in France NT games. If I went to all the effort to go and they’d been canceled, I would have been seriously pissed off. And, as William Gaillard from UEFA says:
“Then you have to deal with the consequences. There’s the principle but also the practical side of things. You have to be really on top of the practical side because evacuating 80,000 people from a stadium would pose a practical problem.”
So if canceling the games is logistically impossible, what’s the answer? My guess would be that France will follow through on the thoughts of Bernard Laporte, French Secretary of State for Sport:
“Let’s stop the hypocrisy – let’s just stop doing these matches,” said Laporte.
Or, in other words, no more friendlies with former French colonies.
My opinion: Sad. The games with former colonies are exciting, high-energy matches, far beyond what you generally expect from a friendly.
But the politicians are up in arms, so I’m guessing this is the probable result.