‘Africa won the World Cup?’: French players (and Obama) have final word

French players and former US President Barack Obama have hit back at suggestions made around the world that it was Africa rather than France that won the World Cup because of the ethnic origin of many of the players.

'Africa won the World Cup?': French players (and Obama) have final word
Photo: AFP

Ever since France won the World Cup on Sunday evening a row, with racist undertones, has been bubbling over.

It has mainly been occurring outside France with the Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro having his say as well as Croatian footballers and Italian journalists.

Even former US President Barack Obama has waded into the row.

Maduro's comments sum up the views of a minority, perhaps bitter about Les Bleus' victory, who pointed to the ethnic origins of the players in a bid to suggest that the World Cup triumph had nothing to do with France.

“The French team looked like an African team, in fact it was Africa who won,” said Maduro. “France won thanks to African players or the sons of Africans.”

Maduro did congratulate France and called for an end to racism in Europe against African people, but his words about the French team stuck.

It was a theme expressed far and wide and not just in the caves of social media where trolls hang out.

French newspaper Les Echos noted how France's victory had been greeted with a tide of racist comments in Italy that some journalists and newspapers had only helped to fuel.

“A team full of Africans blended with some very good white players played against a team from a country at the centre of three great football schools of thought: Slavic, German and Italian,” wrote Italian Corriere della Sera giving its perception on the differences between France and Croatia.

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Even on the eve of the final former Croatian player Igor Stimac said the country's team were up against “the republic of France and the African continent.”

And even the host of The Daily Show in America Trevor Noah tried to joke about the origins of the French team by claiming “Africa won the World Cup” and ended up being accused of racism and poor humour.

Former US president Barack Obama even got involved to rubbish all those suggesting the players were not French.

“Just ask the French football team that just won the World Cup… Not all of those folks looked like Gauls to me. But they're French! They're French,” said Obama during a speech in South Africa to commemorate 100 years since the birth of Nelson Mandela.

US-based French basketball player Evan Fournier also fired off on Twitter.

“Stop it with this “Africa won the world cup for France” nonsense. Is it Africa winning when the USA win Gold medals in the Olympics? he said.

What was perculiar and perhaps positive was that up until that point there was a distinct lack of talk about the origins of the French players in France itself.

While the 1998 World Cup win with a multi-racial team was heralded as a victory for the “Black-Blanc-Beur” (Black, white and Arab) generation and sparked much pondering over the benefits of France being a multi-cultural society, the 2018 win was heralded as a victory for just one colour – les bleus.

“Proud to be blue” were the words emblazoned across the Arc de Triomphe following Sunday's final win.

But eventually the French players – who had remained silent, perhaps bemused by the row, felt compelled to speak out.

The team's players have regularly talked of their pride for playing in multi-racial team that represents a multi-cultural country.

“That's France. There are many origins here. That's what makes France beautiful,” said the team's talisman Paul Pogba, before Sunday's final.

Perhaps the best response to the row was by the French defender Benjamin Mendy, who replied to a tweet by the Sporf website which in a positive attempt to highlight the origins of the players put a flag next to each name in the French squad.

Mendy replied to the Tweet by simply putting a French flag next to the names of each player along with the word “fixed”.

That really should be the last word.







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France plans to keep growing women’s game after World Cup disappointment

France faces the challenge of continuing to develop women's football after the bitter disappointment of elimination from the World Cup by the United States.

France plans to keep growing women's game after World Cup disappointment
France players after the defeat against USA. Photo: AFP

“Back to Earth” was how sports daily L'Equipe put it after the host nation lost 2-1 to the holders in a quarter-final played out before a feverish crowd in Paris.

L'Equipe talked of “the disappointment of a shattered adventure” because coach Corinne Diacre's team had dreamt of emulating the men, World Cup winners in Russia last year and also winners as hosts in 1998.

The team had been desperate to make it to Lyon, where the semi-finals and final will be played and where seven of those who featured for France on Friday play their club football for Europe's top side.

Instead, France find themselves out of a fifth straight major tournament in the quarter-finals. To rub salt into the wounds, Friday's defeat had the knock-on effect of denying them a place at next year's Olympics.

Diacre had been set the objective of reaching the final, which always looked a daunting challenge once the draw raised the likelihood of an early meeting with the USA.

Amid the dejection on Friday, Diacre stated her wish to continue, and on Saturday French Football Federation (FFF) President Noel Le Graet confirmed she would stay.

“She will be in charge until the end of her contract, if not longer,” Le Graet told AFP.

That means until Euro 2021 in England at least, and the aim in France is to keep developing the women's game to give them a chance of one day going all the way.

The FFF hope the number of registered female players will reach 200,000 next year, an increase of almost 10 percent from present figures, but far from the two million registered male players.

They have also promised to invest 15 million euros into a post-World Cup “legacy” fund.

The interest in the women's game is there, as shown by television audiences during the World Cup, with 11.8 million watching the USA game on terrestrial TV.

However, translating that to an increased following in the women's domestic league will be a bigger challenge.

France games have drawn sell-out crowds at the World Cup, but in general attendances in domestic competition are modest at best, even if almost 26,000 saw powerhouses Lyon beat closest rivals Paris Saint-Germain earlier this year.

“We cannot go from so much enthusiasm now to league matches on poor pitches with only 120 fans,” said Le Graet. “We all need to make an effort and we will.”

Matches are televised, but like elsewhere income remains light years from rights deals in the men's game — a new sponsorship contract for the 12-club top flight with chemicals company Arkema is worth one million euros per season for three years.

Average salaries are reportedly around 3,500 euros per month, although stars like Amandine Henry and Wendie Renard are believed to earn almost 10 times that at Lyon, who have won the Champions League in the last four years. Again, those sums are dwarfed by the wages often on offer to the men.

“We need to keep putting money in, keep professionalising, because other countries are doing it and maybe that's why they are ahead of us,” warned Lyon and France forward Eugenie Le Sommer.

“We have a good league but unfortunately not every team is professional.

“There are countries who are ahead of us and we must catch up. Even Spain are putting lots of money in and we need to make sure we are not left behind.”

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