Sport to save city politics?


In January 2021, mayors who are members of the Interministerial Committee for Cities proposed to allocate 1% of the total budget of the Olympic and Paralympic Games to the financing of projects allocated to priority neighborhoods of urban policy (QPV).

Should the Paris 2024 Olympics, an important event for the world’s sports elite, also provide an answer to the social problems faced by disadvantaged working-class neighborhoods? This is the desire of many players, both in French sport and in local authorities.

Considered a place of mixing and a vector of republican equality, is amateur sport neglected in the suburbs? This problem was already identified in the Borloo report (2018) on French suburbs, as well as by previous governments. Among Jean-Louis Borloo’s 19 recommendations, sport ranked sixth with recommendations for training and hiring fitness coaches through sport.

Prime Minister Édouard Philippe also said in April 2018:

“There are 500 thousand unemployed youth in the neighborhoods and we have no right to exclude them. “Sports is one of the keys to living together,” he said.

The 2019 inter-ministerial circular “Sports-Cities-Inclusion” also states that every city charter should include a section entitled “Sport action for social and regional inclusion”. Sports activity is presented as a “carrier of civic values”, which “reveals talents” that can be mobilized for access to education and employment. For this reason, it will be more than any other activity that sport mobilizes young audiences in a dynamic of integration and/or citizenship.

What explains the repeated recourse to sports in the suburbs? What sports model is conveyed there?

Inclusive sports legend

Consensus on the social functions of a naturally integrative and socializing sport is widely shared today, based on a myth expressed through the sport ideology promoted by the founding fathers of modern sport.

First, because sport offers many social success figures, both popular and immigrant backgrounds.

Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and Jules Kounde filmed ahead of the Ligue 1 Cup (UEFA) France-Denmark match on June 3, 2022 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis.
Frank Fife/AFP

Thus, it is a widely shared opinion in our democratic societies that a single sporting practice can generate civic and ethical behavior beyond stadiums. Sport will then be the carrier of values ​​that will calm neighborhoods, ensure coexistence and create a springboard for employment. However, the transfer of sports skills to other social areas (work, school, etc.) is by no means mechanical.

Uses of changing values ​​and images

Following sports rules or match instructions does not necessarily mean following social rules, as evidenced by many cases involving players from the sports world: consider Karim Benzema’s conviction or even sexual abuse in his alleged sex tape. in high level skating.

This belief, born with modern sport, is today conveyed by a much wider circle of believers than just athletes: elected politicians, business leaders, recruiters, consultants, educators, who endorse the idea that sport is a springboard for professional integration.

However, the uses, values ​​and image of sports have changed since the birth of modern sports. In working-class neighborhoods, sport today is a showcase of social and economic success (through the competitive sport model) rather than a real vector of citizenship.

Individualism and identity claims that undermine the social structure do not spare the sports world. We can cite Djokovic’s refusal to comply with the Covid-19 vaccination rule while claiming the right to compete in the Australian Open. Wearing headscarves while playing on the football field, requests for special meals from sports federations or swimming pool hours reserved for women show the effect of the increasing socialization of our societies in sports.

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Allowing the expression of bourgeois values

It explains the history of sport, its transformations as well as the evolution of its political and social use. From 1830 the English pastor Thomas Arnold taught sports at Rugby college because it was supposed to allow the expression of bourgeois values ​​like this. fair play (respect for the opponent, the rules, the referee’s decisions and the spirit of the game) and self management(not “not getting caught up in the game”, but the ability to control oneself in the game).

throughout the XXto In the 21st century, as it became more democratic, competitive sport set an ideal (ethics or sportsmanship) and a physical practice of competition governed by common rules. For institutions (sports or education), “sports” is not just about physically challenging oneself in the sporting environment, it is above all about gaining morality and, more recently, gaining access to a form of citizenship.

Educators of public schools (for the British social elite) in the mid-19th centuryto Passing through the sports leaders of the 1980s, from the Gaullist Ministers of Youth and Sports in the 1960s, and the communist militants of the Sports Federation and Workers’ Gymnastics, they all contributed to promoting and consolidating a vision of sport that was at its core virtuous and educational competition. . For General De Gaulle, “sport is an exceptional educational tool” (De Gaulle, 1934, p. 150).

The rise of spectator sport

From the 1980s, sport emerged from the limited circle of rigid competition and gained the status of an integration tool for the suburbs in the context of the rise of spectator sport in conjunction with the privatization of television. Football is becoming the most watched sport by young men from working-class neighborhoods, offering them a model of excellence. In France, Bernard Tapie (president of the Olympique de Marseille from 1986 to 1993) symbolized the advent of the sports business and a new meritocracy through sports.

Under the combined effect of transformations (democratization, professionalization, media coverage, commodification) and new dynamics (market liberalization, state withdrawal and decentralization, increasing inequalities, economic crisis, unemployment, first urban revolts, political changes) in the world of sports, sports are among the most popular sports. (football, basketball, track and field, boxing) is increasingly being called upon to fight new social exclusions, as it offers a showcase of success.

INA archives, Minguettes region, September 22, 1981.

Sport then becomes “social” and the systems established for youth in mass housing are increasingly described as “socio-sports”. After coming to power, the Left established a Ministry of Leisure, integrating Youth and Sport, in the summer of 1981 the first urban riots broke out in Lyon’s Minguettes district and are linked to immigration, where the first effects of family reunification were recorded. The background to rising unemployment and the emergence of the National Front.

“calming” the suburbs

From 1990 (the founding date of a Ministry of State responsible for urban policy), the Ministries of City and Sports have worked together to revitalize and “pacify” the suburbs. Under the city’s ministers, Michel Delebarre, and then Bernard Tapie, local sports facilities and neighborhood sporting events, run by police officers and educators, are slowly emerging.

The desire to make sport a tool for social development has been widely shared by successive governments since 1991. Taking advantage of the momentum created by the victory of the French team “Black Blanc Beur” in 1998, numerous measures were therefore taken. According to this logic, it has been carried out by public authorities (State and local authorities) and sports federations without an objective and longitudinal assessment of the effects of these policies, which cross the borders of political affiliation, on the social integration and/or professionals of the target groups. .

The 1998 World Cup final and France’s first-ever victory over Brazil (3-0): This event gave impetus to the sport as a popular “pacification” issue.
Omar Torres/AFP

In addition, these programs, supervised by “brothers”, have long targeted boys and young adults primarily. In doing so, the political will to primarily integrate young adolescents through sport to avoid the most visible rebellion has paradoxically led to the exclusion of girls and young women and the masculinization of the public sphere through free or framed urban sports. It is clear that after the end of compulsory education, many young girls from the working classes stopped all physical activity.

Only from the 2000s did public sporting action in the suburbs become more feminine, in the context of more assertive policies in favor of parity. But if gender equality is proclaimed, public sports arenas in QPVs and schemes of professional integration through sport are still mainly designed for men and young men. On the contrary, local elected officials and the State must commit themselves, with school, to make sport a privileged place for diversity and to combat sexist stereotypes that limit girls to practices and dress that are “appropriate” for their gender.