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Jun 27, 2024, 10:02am EDT
Europe
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Semafor Signals

Why French sports stars are urging voters to avoid ‘extremes’ in upcoming elections

Insights from The Athletic, El País, Le Parisien, and Politico

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Lisi Niesner/Reuters
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The News

French basketball star Victor Wembanyama became the latest athlete to urge voters to avoid “extremes” in the election, three days before the first round of voting in which the far-right is expected to prevail.

“For me, it is important to take a distance from extremes, which are not the direction to take for a country like ours,” the San Antonio Spurs member said, days after France football captain Kylian Mbappé and forward Marcus Thuram made similar callouts.

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“We are a generation that can make a difference,” Mbappé said, appealing to young people in particular. “We see the extremes are knocking on the door of power and we have the opportunity to shape our country’s future.”

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Mbappé’s message resonates, but may not lead to action

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Sources:  
The Athletic, BBC, El País

Mbappé’s passionate plea may help to influence voting decisions, especially among minority groups who could fear the consequences of a far-right government, The Athletic argued. It could also prompt young people to mobilize, a politics professor told the BBC: “There’s always high abstention among young voters in France, particularly those from the banlieues [urban suburbs] and from ethnic minority backgrounds,” he said. But while words from sporting celebrities like Mpabbé could resonate, they might not result in practical action like actually voting, El País reported.

Most sportspeople are ‘timid’ about politics

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Source:  
Le Parisien

Most athletes are “timid” when it comes to political messaging, Le Parisien wrote, with the recent spate of comments igniting a debate about how to balance neutrality in sport with speaking out about current affairs, given the influence athletes can have on their supporters. Athletes “have a social responsibility” to use their platform to speak up, one expert on sports and geopolitics told the outlet. In response to the recent election-related remarks by French sports stars, the French Olympic Committee and French Football Federation reinstated their commitment to neutrality.

History of racism in French sport heightens tension

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Sources:  
Politico, The Athletic, The Guardian

There is a long-standing tension between France’s far-right parties, with their hostile stance toward immigration, and French football, which often relies on players of African origin for its global prowess, Politico noted. Jean-Marie Le Pen and his National Front (which later became the now poll-leading National Rally party led by his daughter Marine) were known for their “disapproval” of the multicultural French football team. During the 2006 World Cup, Le Pen controversially suggested the French team lacked support at home because of their origin. And in 2002, then superstar player Zinedine Zidane was targeted by the Front National because of his Algerian origin.

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