Saturday, September 09, 2006

A Simple Gesture

Seanachie's favourite footballer, the majestic Lilian Thuram, together with team-mate Patrick Viera, ruffled a few feathers of the French right-wing on Wednesday by inviting seventy undocumented immigrants to the France-Italy game. The immigrants, mostly African, were recently expelled from a squat in the town of Cachan, just south of Paris and are currently being housed by the town council (who, it should be pointed out, has been quite sympathetic to their plight) in a gymnasium.

People such as the loathsome aristocratic populist Philippe de Villiers, leader of the nationalist Mouvement pour la France, have been particularly annoyed, accusing the "millionaire" footballers of self-righteously preaching, and he asked if Thuram and Viera would like to defray the cost of providing for them, and sheltering them. Considering the pitiful amount of tax the rich pay in this country, the same question might be put to de Villiers, who is no more short of a few pound than the swarthier nouveau riche footballing pair.

Nicolas Sarkozy, a long-time adversary of Thuram, reminded the Barcelona defender that he has been living out of the troubled banlieues a long time and living quite comfortably in Italy. Yes, he has, Nico, but not nearly so long as you have, despite your penchant for parachuting yourself into those banlieues and pledging to clean them up with an industrial cleaner normally used for cleaning birdshit off walls.

Milder voices on the right have stammered that, while the players might have the right to invite whoever they like, a football game should not be manipulated for political ends. Well, some might call it civil rights ends. As for manipulation, it would be gratifying if members of the Chirac-de Villepin-Sarkozy axis could absent themselves from France games in the future, as they tend to be made look good by association. UMP deputy Yves Jégo, a friend of Sarko, moaned that Thuram and Viera are 'rewarding people that for many years have not been respecting the laws of the Republic.' I could think of quite a few members of Jégo's party, not to mention his class, that do the very same thing. This is France, after all. But respect for the law is obviously confined to those that have greater cause to be worried about the consequences of disobeying it. Meaning the poor and African immigrants.

Thuram is no lofty observer of France's social problems; he has been involved in various initiatives to politicise young people in the suburbs in which he grew up, including a voter-registration drive, intended to counter the still-strong Front National vote. He is entitled to an opinion, and being a footballer, pace Philippe de Villiers, does not negate this. Neither Thuram nor Viera will be too worried by their detractors. In the past they have shown themselves to be above the insults thrown at them, such as Jean-Marie Le Pen's gripe that there were too many black players in the French team. And, while the publicity for the immigrants' plight will be welcome, the invitation should be viewed above all as an act of solidarity by two men who have been lucky to rise out of adversity with others who have not had such luck. Long may Thuram and Viera annoy the French establishment.