French soccer team unites nation

The French team that won the 1998 World Cup was hailed as the symbol of a multi-racial nation.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:35 IST
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The French team that won the 1998 World Cup was hailed as the symbol of a multi-racial nation. In the last three years, France's image of tolerance took a bashing with incidents of racial discrimination and the resultant riots tearing the country apart. The final of the 2006 world cup may not have ended the way the French wanted it to. But with the team having reached the final, the people of France have once again been reminded of how football can lead to a multi-racial fusion. Eight out of the 11 players this time were of Arab or African descent. Eight years ago, in 1998, out of the team of 11 men that won the world cup for France, six of those men were of either African or Arab descent. Their role in the world cup victory was seen as a triumphant celebration of the country's racial mix. The central image of the long night of celebration that followed was the face of Zinedine Zidane, the star of the team and a man of Algerian origin. Anger among immigrants But after that race issues came to the fore in 2003 with the ban on headscarves in French schools, which provoked anger among the immigrants. There was rioting and violence in the suburbs of Paris following the death of two teenagers last year, clearly the euphoria of the 1998 world cup win had been forgotten. "Thankfully they are immigrants in the team otherwise we wouldn't be so close to the world cup. The French say we are not good enough but that's not true. We are all the same," said an immigrant. "People should recognise the immigrant community in France because we are many. The proof in 1998, when we do grandiose things such as this its an occasion for the people to come together," said another immigrant. "The French team reflects the image of country. We should be happy but the politicians should follow the example because there is not enough representation of immigrants in the parliament. The politicians should change their politics," said a city resident. In a country where the word immigration almost always spells trouble, it can only be a good thing that the national team should be made up of a majority of players from multi-ethnic backgrounds.