PARIS — French legislators huddled behind closed doors to investigate an issue of national importance — not terrorism or recession, but the French football team’s meltdown at the World Cup.
From taxi drivers to President Nicolas Sarkozy, France is taking the fiasco very close to heart and demanding answers. Wednesday’s extraordinary parliamentary session defied a warning by football’s governing body that political power shouldn’t meddle with sport.
For the French, this is about more than sports. It’s a blow to the national honor at a time when the country is already worried about its decline in the world. Football-proud England and Italy, too, are wondering whether their World Cup failures are glitches or a sign of a broader malaise.
The way France, winner of the 1998 World Cup and runner-up in 2006, left this year’s Cup hurt the French as much as the losing itself.
They finished the first round without a single victory, after players went on strike and refused to train because forward Nicolas Anelka was sent home for insulting the coach. Then there was coach Raymond Domenech’s last gesture at the Cup: refusing to shake hands with the rival coach after France’s final loss to South Africa.
Dubbed an “Affair of State” across front-page headlines for the past week, the debacle drove Sarkozy to summon an emergency meeting on French football, and Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot to trash the French team in parliament. Sarkozy has also announced a national symposium next October to rethink how national football is run.