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Monday, 05 May 2008

Sport in Paris - Page 4

Written by Matt Genner
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Watching rugby at the Stade Jean Bouin is like no other sporting experience. Only in Paris, a city which embraces individuality, can ten thousand people arrive to watch a rugby match dressed in pink replica shirts, waving pink flags and holding heart-shaped pink balloons.

Exiting the metro station in Saint Denis, the Stade de France dominates the horizon. The site of the 1998 FIFA World Cup Final is one of the world’s most futuristic stadiums with its unique design allowing the stands to be moved so it can be used for different events. Guided tours take you into the museum section where you can discover how the complex structure was built and view trophies and pictures from the famous events that have taken place over the past ten years. You are then taken to the press box and into the changing rooms, which are set up as they were for the 1998 World Cup Final. Finally, you get to walk out of the tunnel into the vast arena, where ten years ago France lifted the World Cup for the first time. The French had finally won the tournament which had been created by a Parisian, Jules Rimmet.

Following France’s World Cup triumph, over one million people partied through the night on the Champs-Elysées. Gazing down the famous street from the top of the Arc de Triomphe, you can imagine what a fantastic place this must have been that night. One of the world’s most beautiful streets echoing to the “Marseillaise” and “We Are the Champions” The road covered in a sea of red, white and blue - the colors of the French national team and the colors of the Tricolour. Many hoped that the multicultural team not only reflected the color of the flag but were also a metaphor for a new multicultural France working in harmony.

The day after the final, the French sports daily, L’Equipe, sold 1.7 million copies, the highest sales figure of any paper in France, highlighting the significance of the World Cup victory. With less importance attached to regional sides, the national team is given greater priority than in other countries, and sport is seen as a way of the French expressing themselves to a global audience, both in their performance on the field and their staging of major events.

The short-term feel-good factor, however, has given way to the harsh reality that it will take more than a game of football to change the attitude of a nation. The 1998 World Cup did illustrate the power of sport in uniting people in a single cause. Unfortunately, the failure to build on this and make substantial changes to the lives of immigrants in France means that perhaps the legacy of les bleus will be confined to the field.

The World Cup celebrations on the Champs-Elysées may have been a one-off, but every year the final stage of the Tour de France means this great street comes alive to celebrate French sport. The riders make several laps of the area accompanied by feverish French commentary and though it is nearly impossible to see the finish line, the electric atmosphere makes it worth being there as the cyclists blur past you.

Although cycling had its competitive heyday in the days of Toulouse-Lautrec, with velodromes located across the city, it is still very popular in Paris both as a sport and a mode of transport and this is reflected in the number of cyclists seen on the roads. On Sundays the banks of the Seine are closed to traffic to allow cyclists, joggers and skaters to use the roads in safety. The Vélib scheme, which allows you to hire a bike, is very popular and on Sundays the banks of the river are full of riders.

Sport in Paris, Stade Jean Bouin, Tenniseum, Stade de France, Tour de France, FIFA World Cup, European Football Championships, Olympic gamesWhen people think of France they don’t immediately think of sport. In Paris sport is not thrust in your face as in some other cities; it’s more subtle. Without Parisian sport, however, there would be no FIFA World Cup, no European Football Championships, no Olympic games and no major clay court tennis tournament. Pierre de Coubertin, Jules Rimmet and the Musketeers have had profound impacts on the world of sport and sport in Paris, in its unique way, has a significant impact upon the city.

© Matt Genner

(Page 4 of 4)
Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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