Champions du Monde!!
It’s 9:30am I’m sitting Place Charles de Gaulle in Lille, France, the morning after France wins the World Cup.
Every time I look up from my computer, « Champions du Monde: Merci les Blues!” greets my eyes.
The town center is already spotless—the all night festivities washed away – now the side streets are getting their power washing. No smell of beer, urine, or the sweat of the thousands upon thousands of folks here last night.
Last night, after the game, I joined the mostly under thirty crowd– cheering, dancing, and swirling around for hours without destroying themselves or anyone else. Red and blue smoke filling our lungs and occasional fireworks rattling our ear drums, but other than that we were fine. I usually associate mobs waving national flags with revolution and/or all its accompaniments (hate-filled discourse, looting, violence, and, ultimately – death).
War and Sport in Celebratory France
Arriving in May allowed Ron Niezen and me to enjoy the celebrations at each turn. In the past few weeks, we have heard the Marseilles over 50 times (but still don’t know the words). French flags grow out of the ground and sprout out of windows at every turn. Car buses in Paris honked in unison whenever France scored a goal, even in the semi-finals.
(Now, Ron permitted me to note how he dragged me away from the Hotel Crillon where we were about to see the team heading out to the World Cup. There were 20 of us then. Now I'm watching about 1,000,000 people waiting to catch a glimpse of them returning home...he'll never live that down).
Anyway, to have this celebration – to have this win – inspired this already self-proclaimed optimist for many reasons. In part, because this country has been so rattled by terrorist attacks. To see such fêtes lead to little more than hangovers, dirty streets, and strained vocal cords is a true victory. This experience inspired me for another reason.
This past week at SciencesPo Lille, in my course on Approaches to Conflict in a Globalized World, we talked about sports and conflict and considered sport as a replacement for war.
Of course, suggesting that Boko Haram might be up for a game of volleyball seems more than far-fetched. Stateless militant groups might not be willing to trade guns for soccer cleats but for the nation-state I’m hoping it is still possible. And maybe if we get to young folk before they join terrorist organizations, we can have a chance with them too.
We Americans only see this unity of country and team during the Olympics. That energy is diffused by so many different sporting events. No one knows all the athletes. Anyone interested can quickly learn about all the football (soccer) team members. And unlike the Olympics – which is largely an individual test – the World Cup is about team. We Americans have grown up on a steady diet of individualism. So this “family” nature of the sport promotes values in which we might be in short supply. It felt nourishing.
Lastly, seeing nationalism with the involvement of state leaders unaccompanied by military agenda feels almost utopic. Yesterday evening, Croatian and French team members individually greeted Putin and Macron on the football field. The soccer field instead of the battlefield.
For a moment, at least during this cappuccino, I can pretend we are in a post-war era of humanity. Of course, even the morning after we’re not post-problem. Four homeless-looking young men asked me for money while I wrote this short piece and beautiful young French girls continue to fill their lungs with cigarette smoke.
Of course, sport isn’t replacing war anytime soon, it cannot solve most problems, but after years of studying the causes and effects of war, don’t mind me if I relish a few more days this feeling of well-being and hope for a nationalism without hate.