Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Few Good Black Men

Each month, our Paris Insights newsletter presents the hidden jewels that comprise the "real" Paris – the people and places that are the true heart and soul of the city.
Click here to sign up for the Paris Insights newsletter announcements and to receive our free Practical Paris guide!


The Cité de l’Histoire de l’Immigration at the Palais de la Porte Dorée is hosting an exquisite exposition that explores the history of soccer in France and its introduction into the French colonies. I went to see it because I was living in Paris in 1998 when France won its first World Cup competition. I vividly remember the joy with which the citizens of Paris embraced the “black-blanc-beur” (black-white-Arab) team that brought home the trophy. Though ephemeral, it was a period of racial solidarity that was celebrated in France and widely acclaimed by the press.

Entry to the French Soccer Exposition

One of the topics that the exhibit addresses is the contentious question around the recruitment of foreigners. At the end of World War II, there were calls to limit the number of non-French players on French teams because the presence of foreigners was supposedly obstructing the emergence of French talent in the game. Ironically, francophone African or South American players who were on French teams at that time were not considered foreign because their homelands were “part of the French community” (that is, part of the French colonial empire).

I spent over three hours at the exposition reading, watching various videos, and looking at artifacts and other items—and could have easily spent three more there. Here is information about just a few of the players from Africa or of African descent who are featured there:

Raoul Diagne

Son of Blaise Diagne, the first black African in the French National Assembly (representing Senegal) and the Minister of Colonies, Raoul Diagne was raised as a member of the Paris bourgeoisie. He left the banking industry to take up the game of soccer in 1930. In 1931, he became the first black man to play on France’s national team. He participated in the World Cup match of 1938, and would continue to wear the French jersey until 1940.

Ben Barek: La Perle Noire

Born in Casablanca in 1915, Larbi Ben Barek was the first major soccer star from Morocco. He began his French career on the Olympiade de Marseille team in 1938, and was selected to play for the national team against Italy that same year.
Larbi Ben Barek

He enjoyed tremendous success in France until the Second World War, when he was forced to return to Morocco. He returned after the war and played for three additional seasons before his contract was purchased by Spain. So renowned and appreciated was his talent that a French journalist wrote "Sell the Arc de Triomphe or sell the Eiffel Tower, but don’t sell Ben Barek!"

Salif Keita

This Malian began his French soccer career in Saint-Etienne in 1967. He would play for this team until 1972, when he transferred to the team in Marseille. After a year, he moved on to play for Spain, Portugal, and finally, the New England Tea Men Boston in the United States. He studied business in the U.S. so that he could return to Mali to work for the development of soccer in his home country. He went on to found a soccer training center for youth in Mali that bears his name.

As a member of the Saint-Etienne team, Keita was the first recipient of the African Soccer Player of the Year Award in 1970. The town of Cergy-Pontoise, located northwest of Paris, inaugurated a stadium in September 2009 and named it after Keita.

Joseph-Antoine Bell

Joseph-Antoine Bell

Joseph-Antoine Bell is a native of Cameroun. He played on four soccer teams in France from 1985-1994. In 1989, he was subjected to an overtly racial attack, with spectators throwing bananas at him and calling him a monkey throughout a game played at the stadium in Marseille. This event caused the French soccer club owners to finally take the issue of racism in the game seriously and to take steps to deal with the problem. Bell is currently a commentator for Radio France International 1 (RFI 1).

Marcel Desailly

Marcel Desailly

Born in Accra, Ghana, Marcel Desailly was raised in a bourgeois family in Nantes (his mother married the French Consul of Ghana and his stepfather adopted him). He began his soccer career with the “Football Club of Nantes” in 1986 and went on to be selected for France’s national team numerous times between 1993 and 2004. He was part of the victorious “black-blanc-beur” team of 1998, but did not finish the game due to penalties. He and the entire team were named Chevaliers of the Legion of Honor by Jacques Chirac. Since that time, he has become a media personality in France. He currently splits his time between Accra and Aix-en-Provence.

The Cité de l’Histoire de l’Immigration exhibit closes on January 2, 2011. Fortunately, its sister exhibit at the Musée National du Sport has been extended until March 2, 2011.


Entrée to Black Paris!™ is a Discover Paris! blog.

No comments: