Posted on June 17, 2024

France’s Soccer Team Tackles a New Opponent: The Far Right

Joshua Robinson, Wall Street Journal, June 17, 2024

The French national soccer team landed in Germany this month as the favorite to win the European Championship, led by one of the best strikers in the world, fresh off a glitzy transfer to Real Madrid.

But before they had even kicked a ball here, hoping to restore France to the pinnacle of European soccer, Les Bleus were tackling another matter of profound national significance: the country’s upcoming parliamentary election.

Barely a week after French President Emmanuel Macron dissolved the National Assembly and scheduled new elections for the lower house of parliament, the country’s soccer team has broken its usual silence on politics to come out against the far-right National Rally. Polls taken last week showed that the party, led by Marine Le Pen, threatens to become the largest in the assembly after the two rounds of voting on June 30 and July 7—days before France plays in a potential Euro semifinal.

“The situation is extremely serious,” forward Marcus Thuram said ahead of France’s opening game here on Monday against Austria. “As citizens, we have to fight to make sure that the National Rally doesn’t get through.”

Even by the quiet standards of most athletes outside the U.S., soccer players tend to be notoriously reluctant to discuss most real-world issues. That began to change in 2020, after the killing of George Floyd, as they followed the lead of the NBA and the NFL to make themselves heard on civil rights abuses. But matters of electoral politics remained practically taboo. {snip}

“We’re in a crucial moment in the history of our country. We have to have a sense of our priorities: the Euros are very important to our careers, but we’re citizens first and we shouldn’t be disconnected from the world around us,” said French superstar Kylian Mbappé, who this month sealed a high-profile move from Paris Saint-Germain to Real Madrid. He added explicitly that he supported his teammates’ calls to vote against the far-right.

“Today, we can see that the extremes are on the threshold of power,” Mbappé went on. “We have the opportunity to choose the future of our country. That’s why I’m calling on all young people to go vote, to really understand how important this situation is. I hope my voice will carry, because we need to identify with the values of this country—diversity, tolerance, respect.”


{snip} As early as the mid-1990s, Jean-Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s father and founder of the party, had argued that Les Bleus weren’t French enough. But that sentiment gained little traction, especially once France won the World Cup for the first time in 1998. That multicultural, multiracial squad was celebrated as a powerful symbol of modern France {snip}