World Cup: Can Macron hope to gain popularity if France wins?

The head of state who has so far kept his distance from a controversial World Cup could hope to take advantage of a possible victory for the Blues, in a very gloomy social context. But, with the exception of Jacques Chirac, the popularity of presidents has never been linked to the World Cup.

A little levity in a period of social and economic uncertainty. In any case, this is what Emmanuel Macron could hope for in the event of France’s victory in the Qatar World Cup.

A memory has remained in the memories of the political world: the rise of 18 points in the popularity rating of Jacques Chirac in 1998, after the victory of the Blues in France.

The short-lived explosion of Chirac’s popularity

“The president had been very invested from the start by visiting the players at Clairefontaine. Then, he hadn’t missed a match. After the victory, there was a very strong jubilation which, in a way, had culminated during of the July 14 Garden Party around the president”, recalls Jean-François Lamour, then sports advisor at the Élysée Palace for BFMTV.com.

If this leap in the hearts of the French ultimately proves to be very short-lived and only lasts a few weeks, two years later for Euro 2000, the Head of State is trying to repeat the feat. A waste of time: the French footballers may have won hands down, Jacques Chirac lost a few points of popularity.

After poor results – between a team that emerged in the first round of the Euro in 2008, the failure of the 2010 World Cup and a new disappointment in 2012 – the Blues regained color in 2016.

A victory in 2016 that feels good after the attacks

Despite a very good run to the final, François Hollande, who was at the lowest in the polls at the time, did not benefit from a Euro effect.

“It didn’t change much in opinion polls, but it allowed us to close ranks, to come together 6 months after the November 13 attacks”, advances for BFMTV.com Patrick Kanner, who was then Minister of Sports.

What to give a little hope to Emmanuel Macron in a difficult social and economic atmosphere against a backdrop of war in Ukraine? The calculation seems uncertain in the face of a competition that began under very bad auspices.

The controversies have multiplied in recent weeks, both on the environmental impact of this event in the middle of the desert and on the working conditions of migrants or the rights of women and minorities.

“Do not politicize” the World Cup

Anxious to distinguish himself from these controversies, the president called for “do not politicize” the competitionensuring that on the climate or on human rights, the question had to be asked “when we award” the competitions.

The maneuver aims to protect themselves from criticism while trying to recover some of the aura of the players in the event of a good run by the Blues or even a possible victory.

“We can clearly see that we have a much decried World Cup with sport which seems almost secondary. When we consider from the start that the World Cup has been missed in advance, I find it hard to imagine that it could really give back morale to the French and ultimately benefit the president”, judges for his part the former president of the Union of professional football clubs Guy Contret.

“Problems” that “can burst into the hands”

Proof that Emmanuel Macron is careful to keep his distance from a controversial competition: the presidency has already announced that he will only go to Qatar in the event that France would be in the semi-finals and the final if necessary.

4 years ago in Russia, while criticism had also been strong on the organization of the World Cup, the president had only gone to Moscow for the last match of the competition which opposed Paris to Dubrovnik. Despite the victory of the Frenchthe popularity of the president had hardly evolved.

“He knows very well that problems can fall on his feet. The goal is to support the team when things are going well, in a context that is not one of controversy. Otherwise, at some point, it can burst you in the hands. Hence the support in halftones,” deciphers to BFMTV.com the former Minister of Sports Jean-François Lamour.

The trauma of France-Algeria in 2001

At the Élysée, we probably remember the controversy that struck Lionel Jospin at Matignon in 2001. Three years later the euphoria of France Black Blanc BeurMarie-Georges Buffet, then at the head of Sports, offers the tenant of Matinon to organize a match between Algeria and France – a first since independence in 1962.

But on D-Day, the match turns into a fiasco. In the middle of the Stade de France, the Marseillaise is whistled, just like Zinedine Zidane, yet the favorite personality of the French.

After half-time, hundreds of Algerian supporters flood the lawn, while the players take refuge in the locker room. In the presidential gallery filled with part of the government, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin does not move. What give an angle of attack to the right and the National Front which do not hesitate for several days.

Controversy in South Africa

Another case that pushes the presidency to be cautious in the face of this controversial Qatari World Cup: the elimination from the group stage of France at Knysna in 2010 in South Africa marked by the threat of a “strike” by football players after the exclusion of Nicolas Anelka from the team.

In front of the National Assembly, the Minister of Sports at the time, Roselyne Bachelot, described a team rotten by “immature bullies”, an expression that has been debated for a long time. Suffice to say that the Elysée wants to avoid any controversy of this type in an explosive social context.

“We cannot stay out of such a global phenomenon which brings a little happiness to the French who really need it and at the same time, if anything goes wrong in the team, we will be blamed for it” , sighs a Renaissance deputy, close to the executive.

The president can however be reassured. Except for Jacques Chirac, the performances of the Blues have not had a major influence on the popularity of the Presidents of the Republic, according to a Ifop poll.

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