Tuesday, June 22, 2010

La Coupe du Mondialisation

I saw this sticker graffiti the other day. For anyone who doesn't know, the "Maghreb" are the three french-speaking countries of North Africa: Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. In North Africa, the relationships between the countries are a little terse (borders are closed between Algeria and the other two, who want to distance themselves from Algeria's fundamentalism; Tunisia is the tightest with the EU and strives to present itself as Westernized, much to the disdain of the other two; Morocco has by far the highest tourism rate). However, here in France where immigrants of all three nations find themselves in the margins, they seem to be united. Or at least aspire to be:

I got to witness this firsthand at the England-Algeria World Cup match, which I went to watch in State Charlety. This stadium, with its spacey, planet-like ring around it, must have seemed like a great idea when it was rebuilt in the early 90s--rebuild stadium in the dead zone on the Paris perimeter, bring people and revenue to the area. It flopped horribly, however, quickly falling into disuse and disrepair. As an effort to use the space, the Mairie of Paris decided to open it to the public for the World Cup and project all of the French, Algerian, Cameroonian and Ivory Coast World Cup games on the jumbotron. Since the southern suburbs host a lot of Paris' Muslim families, the Stadium attracted an enthusiastic crowd for the Algerian match.

I was thrilled to be in the midst of the excitement. The French, however, were not. I had already heard several racist doomsday prophesies muttered at me throughout the day ("The Algerians are playing tonight? Alas. And it had been so calm up until now. Guess everything will be broken tomorrow. Better stay in and lock the doors...") The huge lines of riot police waiting to heard us along when we got off the metro were a testament to this fear--which seemed completely unwarranted when juxtaposed with the families of women and children passing by, on their way to cheer on their country.

Almost every Algerian supporter seemed to be wearing some form of their flag, be it face paint, a jersey, or even a flag-cape. There were also a sizable minority of Tunisian and Moroccan flags being waved and worn in support of the Algerian team--and surprisingly, with the full support of the bearers' Algerian peers. It had never occurred to me before, but the Algerian flag is, quite appropriately, a visual amalgam of the three francophone countries' flags--it has the star/Moon emblem of the Tunisian flag, and the red and white color scheme, but it mixes those elements with the green of Morocco's flag.

If you watched the game, you already know that it was pretty dull and uneventful. You wouldn't have known from the Algerian supporters' enthusiasm, though--everytime one of their players merely had possession of the ball they would start cheering like crazy, and any attempt at scoring, no matter how ridiculous or off the mark, would produce a roar of approval that sounded no less joyful than an actual goal might have been (had one ever been scored). At halftime, fans stormed the bleachers at the far side of the field with flares and scaled the stadium to wave flags from the top as florescent-vested stadium workers did their best to keep things under control.
The excitement was even greater at the end of the game. Flares were lit across the field, and there was a wild stampede towards the exit to reach the riot-police lined streets, where you could hear the whoops and cries and horn-honks of "victory" (well, of 'not losing'--the game tied 0-0) for hours to come.
I'm a little sad that the Algerian team didn't score because I'm curious to know what the reaction would have been. On the other hand, I'm also glad England didn't win, because I would have hated for the suspicion and mistrust behind the scads of riot police to have been justified. As it was, the Algerian reception of our group of Americans and an Englishman was jolly and playful, and the experience wholly unifying. It's a real shame that America's two favorite pastimes--football and baseball--are so insular, because it seems that nothing brings countries together like sports.

No comments:

Post a Comment