December 19, 2022


Liberté, egalité, Mbappé: les bleus and the banlieues (Laura Costelloe, 16 Dec 2022, RTE)

Residents of the banlieues - particularly young people - experience disproportionately high unemployment rates, estimated at close to double the national average in some locations, as well as wide-scale social and political exclusion from mainstream French society.

As a result, there are generations of descendants of immigrants from former French colonies who, although born in France and are French citizens, have acquired the status of what Dr Matthew Moran terms the "internal outsider": "immigrants, and especially those of Maghreb origins, find themselves in a no-man's land at the outer reaches of the Republic - officially and legally citizens, but socially stigmatised and permanently viewed as outsiders".

History has shown that the perceived unity of 1998 was short-lived and the success of the football team was not indicative of the success of the French assimilationist model of integration. The last two decades have witnessed a rise in support for the far-right National Rally party (formerly the Front National), including a shock place in the second round of the 2002 Presidential elections for then leader Jean-Marie Le Pen and increasing support for his daughter Marine who was leader of the anti-immigrant, Eurosceptic party until last month.

Meanwhile, the banlieues have been home to ongoing incidents of social unrest and urban violence since the 1980s, with sporadic but relatively regular riots and civil disturbances. Although France has not since seen wide-scale rioting such as that experienced in 2005, isolated violent incidents in the banlieues have continued, including recent unrest following an alleged rape by a police officer during the arrest of a man in Paris in February 2017 and vicious attacks on police officers on New Year's Eve 2017 and New Year's Day 2018.

Despite initial hopes that the 1998 victory signalled the achievement of the constitutional notion of "one France, singular and indivisible", the experience of those living in France's banlieues remains at odds with France's conception of itself as a united Republican state. According to legendary 1998 defender and most capped French player Lilian Thuram, "football has always been political" in France.

The success of this young French team has once again invited commentary on the disconnect between the hero status of Mbappé and co and the large-scale exclusion and marginalisation of young people from the suburbs. For some residents of the banlieues, football is not only a hobby, it is also seen as a way out of the cycle of poverty and discrimination which has come to characterise these neighbourhoods. As one resident of the banlieues commented, "the only way to make it here is in sport or rap".

Posted by at December 19, 2022 12:00 AM