French word of the day: Le Plaquage (14/9/2023)

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So there’s a fair bit of excitement in France at the moment because the Rugby World cup is currently being held across the country. (Well there is also a lot of “excitement” about abayas and school uniforms in France, but I can’t be a*sed to write a newsletter about that.)

Instead, let’s focus group sports, which as we recall are meant to bring communities and people together for fun, friendship, and fair play. Feeling the glow yet?

I always love watching sports, and grew up watching NFL football and regular football (the sport where you kick the ball with your foot). However I’ve never watched enough rugby to understand the rules. (My Other-half is a football fan and equally lost at rugby. But we live in the countryside now, what else do you do on a Friday evening?)

And we were not the only ones to decide to get into rugby, superstar Kylian Mbappé showed up at the opener last Friday between France and the New Zealand All Blacks, and is apparently just as confused about the rugby rules as we were.

Now this is France so of course a few controversies have popped up over the course of the past few days of the World Cup. Fans in Marseille and Bordeaux were stuck outside 20 minutes before kickoff causing chaos, President Macron was roundly booed at the opening ceremony, and organizers did not foresee that last week’s heatwave would lead to massive beer shortages with fans chugging them down in one shot (like President Macron d’ailleurs).

(I should note that French football fans are generally considered too rowdy for beer in the stadium but apparently an exception was made for rugby. Yes, you have to watch most sports in France with a bottle of water, and maybe if you are lucky, some chips. This goes for next year’s Olympics too.)

Besides the beer shortage, I do have a few notes as well about why the TV cameras for the field goals don’t seem to be positioned properly to show whether the ball is going through or not. (If they can manage for the NFL, why not for rugby?)

But the biggest controversy of the week has to be reserved for the national anthems. Yes, the French national anthem.

As one would have it, the organizers got the great idea to invite choir groups from local elementary schools to sing the different national anthems in the stadium. What could be so controversial about that, you ask?

Well the enthusiastic choir directors had apparently decided to seize their big moment in the sun, and designed musical arragements for the children to sing in acapella and in cannon in an open stadium of 80,000+ spectators.

The end result could only be described as a “un horreur“, “cacophonie terrible” and “La Marseillaise la plus pourrie de l’histoire” (“the worst version of the Marseillaise in the world”). Forget the rugby tackles on the pitch, this plaquage was going to be aimed at small children?

Because not only were the children, players, and fans in the stadium all singing the French anthem at different rhythms on top of one another, but all the national anthems were being sung that way.

With the Irish and Italians already up in arms (yes, a Marseillaise joke, I can’t help myself), panicked meetings have been held by officials all week long about what to do about the children and their choirs.

Should the anthems be prerecorded? Should the children still be invited to the stadium? Maybe former rugby player turned baritone Omar Hasan could be talked into signing instead? Should they drop all the anthems all together?

I should add that these choirs consist of 7000 local kids between 6 and 12 years old who have been practising these anthems for months, in French and other foreign languages. (Amhrán na bhFiann, anyone?)

Anyway, after a gazillion French and international news articles and opinion letters, the decision has been made to, at the very least, avoid signing in cannon. The plan is to stick to a more “traditional arrangement” which all the country clubs have been asked to sign off to.

FYI, there’s a match tonight featuring France versus Uruguay, and I for one can’t wait to tune in. (Yup, I couldn’t help myself again 😉

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