'Future of France' at stake as Sarkozy meets Henry

President Nicolas Sarkozy cleared his schedule yesterday morning to talk to a Very Important Person about no less significant a matter than "the future of France".

A presidential car met the VIP at Le Bourget airport, and sped him directly to the Elysee Palace. The visitor was admitted by a back entrance to avoid (and irritate) the waiting press and anxious public. Nothing was allowed to emerge from the presidential discussions.

It is reasonable to assume that the talks were grave and momentous. To make room in his schedule, Mr Sarkozy had blown out a meeting with French voluntary relief organisations about the fate of 3,000,000,000 poor people in the developing world. Across town, a hundred thousand people were marching to protest against the president's plan to raise the pension age.

Neither of these issues was as important to the "future of France" as the evidence presented to President Sarkozy by his VIP visitor. He was Thierry "Hand of Frog" Henry, aged 32, Barcelona and former Arsenal striker and an eye-witness to the calamitous events in South Africa which have made "Les Bleus", the French national football team, the laughing-stock of the world.

The "France" whose future was under discussion at the Elysee Palace yesterday was not the world's fifth largest economy (with the G20 summit in Toronto only two days away). It was the France team which won the World Cup in 1998 and came second in 2006 but crashed out of South Africa 2010 at the group stage this week. (Team record: bottom of group, no victories, one goal, a player's mutiny and a leading striker sent home for telling the manager to "go and get yourself expletive deleted".)

The Elysee said that Mr Henry had sought the meeting to explain what had really happened in South Africa. Friends of Mr Henry said that President Sarkozy, a passionate, match-going, football fan, had sought the meeting more in fury than in sorrow.

Political opponents insisted that Mr Sarkozy had cynically called the meeting to distract from the anti-pension demos. The jilted French voluntary relief groups said that President Sarkozy was a disgrace and retaliated by refusing to meet Bernard Kouchner, the foreign minister.

Daniel Cohn-Bendit, passionate, match-going football fan, former revolutionary and Green politician, said that the "pantomime" of Les Bleus had gone into "extra time" and achieved "a new pinnacle of the ridiculous".

Under the rules of the world football body, FIFA, political interference in football is not allowed. President Sarkozy has, nonetheless, ordered a "football parliament" in October to consider the implications of the South African debacle.

Whatever FIFA, or Medecins sans Frontieres, might think, the melt-down of Les Bleus is deeply political. The dire performances of the team and the public rebellion by the mostly black players have generated an outpouring of scarcely-disguised racial bile from centre-right politicians and commentators in the last two days.

Roselyne Bachelot, the minister for health and sport, told the National Assembly on Wednesday night that the problems had been caused by a few immature "caids" or "gang-bosses" - a word mostly used in France to describe the leaders of teenage gangs in the troubled, multi-racial suburbs.

Alain Finkielkraut, a right-wing philosopher, said that the team was "not representative" of France. "We are watching the spirit of society being devoured by the spirit of the troubled estates," he said.

The minister for urban development, Fadela Amara had to call to order a meeting of Mr Sarkozy's parliamentary supporters on Wednesday night. Their quasi-racial abuse of the France team was "opening a boulevard" to the xenophobic National Front, she said.

The South African calamity has allowed an ugly truth to bubble to the surface. Many white, middle class French people have disliked the France team for years, partly because of their poor performances but also because the squad is dominated by black players. Mr Finkielkraut's belief that the team is "not representative" is widely felt.

Other commentators, including Ms Fadela, and the - white - midfielder from the 1998 world champions, Emmanuel Petit, have pointed to the inaccuracy and hypocrisy of many of these comments. The World Cup success of the 1998 team was hailed as a triumph for a multi-racial France. Many of its leading players were also born in troubled, multi-racial estates. They included yesterday's phantom VIP visitor to the Elysee Palace.

Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the iWatch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Astronauts could be kept asleep for days or even weeks
scienceScientists are looking for a way to keep astronauts in a sleeplike state for days or weeks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own