'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.

voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action