And where are they? Not in the meetings, nor on the lists of support for the candidates that one can seek, in vain, this year. The 2022 presidential election will be played without athletes, retained by other occupations.
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It is a long time ago when Jacques Chirac could display during his 1995 campaign a “support committee for high-level athletes” chaired by the ice dancer and vice-world champion Sophie Moniotte. Where Nicolas Sarkozy embarked at his side in 2007 many former glories like Alain Prost, David Douillet, Bernard Laporte, Richard Virenque, and many others. Where François Hollande benefited in 2012 from the reinforcement of a hundred athletes and coaches behind him from the first round. Emmanuel Macron was able to pull out of his sleeve a list, in 2017, of only sixty names, but late, before the second round, to block Marine Le Pen.
Positions that are too radical are frightening
And then this year, nothing. Dreary plain. “Behind this phenomenon, we can read the end of the traditional parties, which with their many militants tried to recruit in all areas of civil society, with real efficiency for the Socialist Party, the RPR then the UMP, and even the Front leftist in 2012analyzes the sociologist William Gasparini, professor of sports sciences at the University of Strasbourg. Athletes, like many artists, have gone from a partisan commitment to a more societal commitment, in favor of the environment, sport-health or other more identity-based fights carried by American champions who serve more and more models with us. »
This change, the quadruple Paralympic wheelchair tennis medalist Michaël Jéremiasz measures it perfectly. He had committed himself behind the Socialist Party in the Île-de-France region about fifteen years ago, then had advised François Hollande at his request during his mandate, before investing in 2017 to make people talk about disability in the countryside. Requested this year, he preferred to decline. “I no longer find this ‘political family’ side which prevailed before and which is disappearing in favor of multiple camps which are lost in a very divisive campaign and on themes which I find nauseous, judges the ex-champion. Athletes inevitably have less desire to get involved suddenly, especially as there are blows to take, with increasingly violent reactions. »
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Social networks have been there. Champions are no longer reluctant to display their civic engagement in favor of great shared causes. Defense of the environment, support for the Uyghurs, the Ukrainian people, the fight against racism, homophobia. “The sponsors who sponsor them have also understood very well the interest for their champions of positioning themselves on these great causes, emphasizes William Gasparini. On the other hand, other subjects are not invested, for fear in particular of a volley of green wood on social networks: secularism for example. On a campaign like this year with sometimes very radical positions, they prefer to abstain. »
The societal impact of sport undervalued
Which does not mean that athletes are deserting the political field. “On municipal elections or other local polls, on more concrete and local issues, the champions are less hesitant to join us, notes Patrick Appéré, deputy mayor of Grenoble and president since 2020 of the National Association of elected officials in charge of sport (Andes). But there, they are much less comfortable in a campaign where we are more on a very partisan election than on an election of values. And all the more so since they realize how sport is not one of the main concerns of the candidates. »
Michaël Jéremiasz, member of the Paris 2024 Athletes’ Commission, also deplores this lack of visibility of sports themes in the campaign, barely two years before the next Olympic Games in the capital: “Athletes know very well that sport is a wonderful tool for having a transversal impact on our society, in terms of health, inclusiveness, the fight against inequalities, but they also see clearly that national policy is not on point in this regard. This campaign shows once again that France is not a sporting country. That sport does not have a lot of space in the programs, and probably not enough either in the media. How do you expect athletes to push behind candidates who ignore them? All of this is quite catastrophic. »
Sport, the poor relation of the countryside
On March 17, the French Olympic Committee (CNOSF) organized a “grand oral” at its Paris headquarters for the candidates for the election to present their sports programs. The institution had invited eight of them, wishing to receive them in person and not possible representatives. Result: barely three moved: Anne Hidalgo, Yannick Jadot and Fabien Roussel. Sports leaders pretended to be satisfied, not without recalling the need to wake up, as the Olympic Games in Paris in 2024 will take place at the heart of the next five-year term. “We want to see the maximum of our proposals appear, especially after the campaign. There is an urgent need to change things.” said Brigitte Henriques, the president of the CNOSF, hoping not to have to deplore a missed opportunity tomorrow.
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