Before their game against South Africa on Tuesday, the players representing France at the World Cup were addressed by their nation’s sports minister, Roselyne Bachelot. She was concerned that said players had made fools of themselves and a laughing stock of their team by refusing to practice before the game. That curious decision came after the French Soccer Federation had sent striker Nicolas Anelka back to France because Anelka had berated and insulted the team’s coach, Raymond Domenech, between halves of the game France lost to Mexico on Thursday.
“You have tarnished the image of France,” Bachelot told the team. “French soccer is facing a disaster, not because it lost a match, but because this disaster is a moral disaster.”
Politicians, like sportswriters, often engage in hyperbole. Home runs are rockets or lasers. One was even dubbed “the shot heard ‘round the world,” though a fair portion of the planet had no stake in whether the Dodgers or the Giants won the National League pennant in 1951.
Still, for an official in the French government — albeit an official whose area of concern is sports — to term the collapse of the soccer team “a moral disaster” is terminally goofy.
Unhappily for the sports minister, despite her injunction to “think of our children, for whom perhaps you will no longer be heroes,” the French team came up short against South Africa, losing a player to a red card in the first half and dropping the game, 2-1.
Like lots of other collections of men or women playing a game, the French team has sometimes been successful, sometimes disappointing. Like any other collection of men or women doing anything together, they’ve had disagreements, and the disagreements have sometimes become public. Hey, before the World Cup began, the roster of the English team was scrambled because, as they say over there, one of the lads fancied a teammate’s wag. Or ex-wag. A moral something may have been involved, if not a disaster.
Anyway, France is likely to endure. Even as the soccer team’s clown act casts its alleged shadow of shame over the nation, most of the men, women and even children of France will somehow carry on. My guess is that “the moral disaster” and what the French coach has termed “a stupidity without name” notwithstanding, most of those men, women and children, being fans of the game, will even continue to enjoy the World Cup.
This program aired on June 22, 2010.