'Allez Les Bleus!', but Islam evidently isn’t blue - Part I
After a leaked email revealed that the French Football Federation banned Muslim players from taking a minute to break their fast during matches, controversy sparks over the FFF's Islamophobic decision and what more it might entail.
France has been known lately to make football headlines, especially in regard to its lengthy history of advancing deep in World Cups. For instance, in 2006, France lost to Italy on penalties after playing a 1-1 draw. In 1998, France defeated Brazil 3-0 for its first World Cup title. As for more recent history, The Blues emerged triumphant in Russia's 2018 World Cup against Croatia. A few months ago in Qatar, France reached the penalties stage in the finals where they lost against Argentina. Their most recent wins and advances naturally resulted in French praise and adoration.
The French, who may be somehow divided in the realm of politics or other aspects, have often been united at least on one of France's symbols: "Les Blues" or "The Blues", which is a title used to refer to the French national football team whose uniforms are of the color navy blue. "Allez Les Bleus" or "Go Blues" basically means "Go France". It is a chant that shows unwavering support toward the French team and players.
It seems lately that this support has limits. Although all team members are supposed to be part of "The Blues", specific players are not experiencing the same unwavering support which comes with this title. The talented French football players are "blue". The scorers and the defenders are "blue". The winners of esteemed titles are "blue". However, it seems that Muslim players are not.
The leak of a shameful email
In a more specific sense, the French Football Federation (FFF) has been subject to widespread criticism for several reasons, mainly due to their most recent leaked email, which reveals a decision to ban Muslim players from breaking their fast in Ligue 1 matches during the Holy month of Ramadan.
During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food and drink from dawn to sunset. They can only eat and drink between sunset and dawn.
No pauses for players to break their fast
Muslim players competing in Ligue 1 will not be allowed to stop mid-game to break their fast. Muslim players in the French national football team were informed that matches will not be postponed, delayed, or paused in order to allow these footballers to break their fast. Breaking a fast would take a minute as players consume a sip of water and perhaps a powering snack next to the pitch to help them regain some energy they lost during the long hours of fasting during the day.
Some of these French Muslim players are Paul Pogba, Ousmane Dembele, and N'Golo Kante, all of which achieved international superstar status in recent years and uphold high FIFA ratings. These happen to be the same players who took part in France's historic win in the 2018 World Cup hosted by Russia.
In early April, a leaked email revealed that the French Football Federation asked the Federal Commission of Referees to ban Muslim players from taking a break to consume food or drink during local matches.
The leaked email claimed that such "interruptions do not respect the provisions of the Statutes of the FFF" and are therefore forbidden.
"A football field, a stadium, a gymnasium, are not places of political or religious expression, they are places of neutrality where values of sport, such as equality, fraternity, impartiality, learning to respect the referee, oneself, and others, must prevail," stated the widely-criticized email.
The FFF forbids any display of political, ideological, or religious affiliation during its tournament. As it seems, taking a minute to drink a sip of water is okay during regular times, however, since Muslims need it to break their fast, it is automatically an affiliated maneuver that should be banned by the federation.
Abide or suffer criminal proceedings
The FFF also warned that "disciplinary and/or criminal proceedings" would be issued should referees not comply with the email’s orders.
The French footballing body’s decision has been criticized by footballers, journalists, and activists alike, who said that the move was "a clear manifestation of intolerance and xenophobia."
Ironically "prevents any discrimination"
The FFF claims to "defend the fundamental values of the French Republic and must implement means to prevent any discrimination or infringement of a person’s dignity due to their…political and religious beliefs." If this were true, how come such a decision was taken?
The federation's decision was widely criticized not only for its unfair nature and disrespect for Muslim practices but also because several other huge organizations did not adopt the same policy.
Investigative journalist, Romain Molina, summarized the entire fiasco with a simple tweet: "Kudos for the FFF for hunting down players fasting in Ramadan," cynically congratulating the FFF on failing their Muslim players who wish to perform a significant act of worship.
Cadeau pour la FFF et sa chasse à qui fait le ramadan.— Romain Molina (@Romain_Molina) April 2, 2023
The French football federation showed its incompetence. Several countries have prepared real arrangements to respect religious people, there was plenty of room to do the minimum.
Premier League on fasting players
For instance, the English Football League and the Premier League issued a statement showing that they allow players to break their fast during domestic games. Star Muslim players such as Mohammad Salah, Riyad Mahrez, and N'Golo Kante who play for English teams can make a natural pause once the sun sets to grab a quick drink or consume a snack and resume the match. Conveniently enough, fasting players in the Premier League were asked to report that they will be fasting ahead of games to make the required arrangements so that their needs are fully respected.
Several players, particularly non-muslims, expressed their disapproval of the FFF's decision. For instance, Aston Villa left-back and French international Lucas Digne said on his Instagram page: "In 2023 we can stop a match for 20 minutes over a [game] decision but not for one minute to drink some water."
Amusingly enough, when a match is paused for the sake of taking a football decision, in case of an injury, or any other reason for a long interval of time, it is called a "pause". However, when Muslims wish to take a brief minute to break a fast, it is referred to as an "interruption".
Had the player wanted to practice intermittent fasting for the sake of improving their physicality or stamina, among other reasons, and required a quick pause to break their fast or consume a snack, would the FFF have the same reaction?
Coaches in their prime or FFF's partner in crime?
On another level of blunt audacity, Muslim players were reportedly asked to postpone their fasting practice during the five days leading up to the EURO 2024 qualifier games against the Netherlands and Ireland on the respective dates of the 24th and 27th of March. This alone showcases insensitivity and disrespect toward Muslim beliefs which clearly state that this is a month of fasting; Muslims should not be asked to refrain from their religious practices to win a couple of matches or to simply not have their performance be affected in any way. France won both matches regardless of this absurd ask.
Nantes' manager, Antoine Kambouare
Nantes manager, Antoine Kambouare, was among those who requested that his Muslim left-back Jaouen Hadjam would refrain from fasting during his match, a request which the player refused. As a result, the manager coincidentally decided to drop the player from a match where he was planning to start.
🚨🇫🇷 Nantes manager Antoine Kombouaré has decided to drop Jaouen Hadjam from his squad today.— EuroFoot (@eurofootcom) April 2, 2023
This was after the player refused to break his Ramadan fast on matchday after a direct request from the coach himself, reports @RMCsport. pic.twitter.com/HR2BXI5Rrg
After the decision went viral, Nantes' manager did not deny the allegations that he had dropped his player because he refused not to perform his religious duty. "On matchday, you should not fast. It is not a punishment. I set rules. It's his choice and I respect it.", Kombouare told a news conference after his team's 3-0 home defeat.
Hadjam joined Nantes in January from Paris FC and had featured in nine league matches before his manager's decision. He had started in seven of these nine league matches and played an average of 80 minutes per match, which portrays his significance to the squad. For a decision to be taken to stop Hadjam from starting reflects that the manager would rather showcase obvious religious spite instead of having his team's (who is currently at risk of relegation) best interest at heart.
Good thing he removed that fasting player, otherwise they might’ve actually lost today’s game 😮💨— Mehhhssi 🐐 (@Mehhhssi) April 2, 2023
Oh wait… pic.twitter.com/uboc3Ys6Ry
Paris Saint-Germain coach, Christophe Galtier
In a related context, Christophe Galtier found himself at the center of controversy after he was accused of having a racist attitude when he was coaching at Nice in 2021. Former Nice director of football, Julien Fournier, announced that Galtier has made racist and discriminatory remarks when coaching the Ligue 1 team.
Investigative journalist Romain Molina reported the incident which was documented by email.
‘We can’t have so many black and Muslim players in the team’
Fournier reportedly sent the email to INEOS, the company which owns Nice, mentioning Galtier's racist and Islamophobic attitude toward his players.
Galtier had reportedly told the former Nice director of football that he "should realize that the team did not correspond to the city or to what people were asking for."
Noting that 87% of France's World Cup winning squad is made up of immigrants, some of which are Black, and others Muslims, do the French oppose having Black or Muslim players in their national team? Do Blacks or Muslims not correspond to France or any specific city? Don't these allegations make you wonder if the now-coach of the most prominent French team in Ligue 1 is worth being placed in such a position of power?
US reporter Ben Jacobs announced that PSG is not taking the required legal actions to at least attempt to set the record straight regarding their coach's most recent racist and Islamophobic comment circulating the media.
Understand PSG have NOT launched an investigation into Christophe Galtier following claims of alleged racism during his time at Nice. Galtier has told PSG he will take legal action against "insulting and defamatory comments" made against him. Disturbing and messy situation. pic.twitter.com/OzpUo8mZ9K— Ben Jacobs (@JacobsBen) April 12, 2023
On a more cynical note, how wise would Galtier be to make such a comment considering that the now-owner of the football club he coaches is Muslim Qatari Nasser Al-Khelaifi?
Islamophobia in French football could be buried deep. Criticizing the FFF for such decisions isn't enough to make a change. Coaches carry immense responsibility and affect their players and the way football fans view the club they coach. What will the FFF's next step be? Will public opinion be able to affect the federation's future decisions? And most importantly, will Islam ever become "blue" in French football?