French MPs boycott charity football match over inclusion of Right-wingers

Marine Le Pen said the row showed that ‘it’s hatred all the time, everywhere, non-stop fighting’ - Stephane de Sakutin/AFP
Marine Le Pen said the row showed that ‘it’s hatred all the time, everywhere, non-stop fighting’ - Stephane de Sakutin/AFP

French MPs from Emmanuel Macron’s governing party and the Left have boycotted a cross-party charity football match because it would include teammates from Marine Le Pen’s Right-wing National Rally.

Both warned against “trivialising” nationalism days after the victory of Georgia Meloni, heiress to Italy’s fascists, in legislative elections.

The France football team of the National Assembly was created in 2014 to show that politicians could forget their differences and join forces in the name of charity.

Since then, former France internationals and MPs from across the political spectrum have played in the team, which has included female politicians, among them Barbara Pompii, a former environment minister.

On Wednesday, two parliamentary teams were due to play to raise money for e-Enfance, a charity dedicated to fighting cyberbullying.

Former France players Robert Pires, Sidney Govou and Christian Karembeu were included in the squad along with Eric Coquerel, of the hard-Left France Unbowed (LFI), and Olivier Veran, Mr Macron’s government spokesman.

However, hours before kickoff at a stadium close to the Eiffel Tower, Left-wing parties and Mr Macron’s governing Renaissance group announced that they would boycott the game because of the presence of four National Rally MPs.

The Right-wing party made major gains in June’s legislative elections, clinching 89 parliamentary seats out of a total of 577 – a record. Mr Veran told CNews television: “That doesn’t mean that we should help them in their desire to normalise themselves.”

Aurore Berge, a senior Renaissance MP, fired off a note to MPs advising against them taking part. “We are not in the same team. Neither far-Right, nor far-Left,” she wrote, according to BFMTV.

In a statement, the LFI wrote: “As football fans more inclined to tackle the far-Right than pass it the ball, Unbowed MPs have chosen not to help it score points with this first match.”

The Socialists followed suit, saying they were against “the trivialisation of the far-Right”. Lamia El Aaraje, a party spokesman, said participation would send the wrong message given “the rise of the far-Right in Europe that is extremely worrying”.

The warnings come amid reported government fears that France could follow in the footsteps of Italy and Sweden, which saw nationalists make major gains in elections this month.

“In all countries in Europe, we are facing the rise of extremes,” Mr Macron said this month. “Why is the far-Right rising? Perhaps in our public debates, we played down what separated the far-Right from the rest of the political field throughout Europe and among all Western democracies.”

The spat underlines a long-standing dilemma for mainstream politicians over how to tackle nationalist parties, notably the Front National and its successor, the National Rally.

“It says a lot about these people in reality,” Ms Le Pen told RTL radio on Wednesday about the football row. “It’s hatred all the time, everywhere, non-stop fighting.”

Emmanuel Blairy, a National Rally MP and player, expressed disappointment at what he called a “denial of democracy”.

“Disagreeing is one thing but it’s part of the pluralism of political life,” he said. “Today we have a significant force in the National Assembly. We didn’t turn up marching in military uniform – we were elected by the French people to represent them.”

Mr Veran, a regular in previous parliament charity matches, confessed he had mixed feelings about the boycott.

“In saying that I won’t go to play, I am taking part in a phenomenon that serves to reinforce the notion that they [the far-Right] are ostracised, that they are victims of the system,” he said.

Pierre-Henri Dumont, of the Right-wing Republicans party and one of the captains, accused the Left of “creating a buzz to get people to forget their in-fighting”. The leaders of the Greens and LFI are both embroiled in domestic violence allegations.

Mr Dumont added: “The main point is being forgotten, namely that thanks to our sponsors we will hand over a cheque of €35,000 to charity.”