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Paris Lights: France Never Surrenders In Rugby

PJM Paris: The French interrupted their canonization of Al Gore just long enough to pay attention to Europe's second most popular sport, reports PJM's Paris editor Nidra Poller. "Rugby France is Sarkozy France."

by
Nidra Poller, PJM Editor, Paris

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October 16, 2007 - 1:00 am

Who wants to be president of the United States when you can be King of the Planet? It would be fair to assume that French media are on the same base as the general public when it comes to sacralizing ecologism and worshipping Al Gore’s film. Nicolas Sarkozy gulped down a big ecologistic fish, Nicolas Hulot, during the campaign by promising to make ecology one of the pillars of his government and he’s a man of his word. An ecological summit is looming, practical measures will be debated and applied, and in the meantime it is grist for the media mill.

Media coverage of the Nobel was consensual; the British judgment on the Inconvenient Truth’s untruths was mentioned in passing but didn’t spoil the celebration of a Nobel Prize billed as a spit in the eye of George W. Bush. To think, the unsuccessful candidate in 2000 against George Bush who refuses to sign the Kyoto protocol has now won a greater victory in a higher battle, the rush to save the planet.

The melting of the polar ice cap acts as an antidote to scary news about reality. Al Qaeda in the Maghreb is attacking French expats and preparing the reconquista? Don’t worry your head, citoyen. Join the international brigades, carry ice cubes to the Pole, and save the planet for the jihadis.

The enthusiasm for Gore’s Nobelity reached a paroxysm with this unashamed headline in the Figaro: Al Gore’s Green Crusade. The C-word is OK if you’re fighting to keep the planet from overheating and swallowing its seacoasts. Ecology, we were told with a sigh of relief, is morality. Finally! Something people can believe in.

60 Million Consumers issued a dire warning about broad band internet servers chugging away 24/24, pumping the life out of the planet and hiking up your electric bill by 16 to 29 euros per year!

Despite a burst of pride in a Nobel prize that honors a putative American who is really someone like us, ecology quickly went the way of all boring religious subjects, replaced by an authentic passion-rugby. Even soccer is cuckolded here in the capital of adultery. No one cares about those effete footsie wootsies playing with two hands tied behind their backs. France is the home of the Rugby World Cup and 5 year-olds are doing the haka. Souvenir shops are selling more rugby balls than Eiffel Towers, camembert refrigerator magnets, Toulouse-Lautrec posters, and lavender sachets. We are bathed in accents from rugby country, the Southwest, which has butted its way out of the provinces and into the heart of the nation. Commentators with broad shoulders and smashed noses explain what is going on when all those hulks pile onto each other, grapple, heave, and then suddenly transform into fleet-footed messengers.

And political analysts quickly grasped the deeper implications of this transformation. Rugby France is Sarkozy France. The will to win. Unashamed energy. Fierce competition. Fearless confrontation. Smash and get smashed but get that ball and run with it. Tackle and be tackled but never say die.

Not only that, it’s fair play. Players and fans behave like gentlemen. They don’t smash up the train or the stadium because their team lost. No ethnic insults and bragging about diversity. Whatever his color, whatever his origin, a rugbyman is a rugbyman, he’s not a poster boy for immigration. He fights for his team, and his team proudly displays its national identity.

Zidane got himself into the act, fooling around with a rugby ball, dressed in an all-Blacks uniform. He looked like an anorexic model. Zidane’s honor-killing head-butt (against Mazarotti…which deprived the French of victory in the 2006 World Cup final) looks ridiculous in retrospect, when you’ve watched two hours worth of head-on collisions between hard rock musclemen. There’s something refreshing about seeing them at the end of the game, bashed, bloody, sweating, and bruised. I don’t know how much they earn, compared to soccer’s pinup boys, but they play like foot soldiers defending the homeland.

Rugby mania was at its utmost this week, after France beat the all-Blacks in a game that soared with suspense up to the last minute. The taste of victory was so sweet, dreams of triumph were so entrancing, hopes were so high…if the average citizen had to choose between winning the championship or saving the planet, trust me, they would go for the Cup, and let the North Pole fend for itself.

After beating the all-Blacks how could the French lose against England?

That’s the problem. The French were undone by their worst defect–the incapacity to clearly distinguish between past, present, and future. The thought of winning was pounded into the player’s heads, seared into the minds of the populace, woven into the media spiel, adorned with the tricolor from wigs to toenails. The window dressing was overdone. And when it came down to the nitty gritty, the team flinched and failed.

Quickly reversing England’s 5 to 0 opening smash, the French reached the half time with a 6 to 5 lead, which they brought up to 9 early in the second half. Mesmerized by that lead, they could never consolidate it, couldn’t build on it to give themselves a margin of safety. They went through the motions, but there was no play in their game. When all might have been lost, the Brits were still fighting. They won, 14 to 9. A heartbreaker.

If the French draw wisdom from that disappointment, it will be a victory. What they lack is derring-do. It takes a bit of reckless determination to go beyond a sterile demonstration of your talents and really win.

French citizens chose a government that promised results…on condition of accepting the risks that go with free enterprise. In the past few weeks, special interest groups have been digging in their heels, opposing every reform, no matter how necessary. Not yet, they say, not that way, not so fast, we have to discuss and debate…and demonstrate…and go on strike. The transport workers are promising a Big One for next week. The government says it will be a last hurrah. This isn’t the old days when you close down the economy with a three-month strike and the prime minister gets thrown to the dogs. It’s going to be a head-on collision…democratic, but decisive. We’ll see which side has the true grit.

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