Stade de France: from simple pitch to contemporary agora

‘Sport must not be politicised’ declared the French President last November, when the announcement of his possible visit to Qatar for the Football World Cup provoked strong reactions. On 8 September, there was every reason to believe that the Rugby World Cup launch ceremony would illustrate the country’s international cultural and sporting influence. But that was without counting the arrival of the Head of State, who was hissed and booed during his speech. A sequence hailed by the opposition and prompting 13.4k mentions for 731k engagements in the digital space.

In France: a divisive event rekindling frustrations

In the French-speaking language perimeter on Twitter, a large proportion of users followed this event in real time and reactions immediately multiplied. The semantic universe linked to the Rugby World Cup included numerous hashtags dedicated to the incident.

Within the opposition, reactions came in particular from Insoumis such as Manuel Bompard, who showed his enthusiasm via the following statement: ‘King Macron booed by the French people! We will never leave him alone!’ Meanwhile, LFI MP Bastien Lachaud added: ‘’The people haven’t forgotten the insults and the pension reform. He’s had the reception he deserves.’

Conversely, Renaissance MP Robin Reda expressed his displeasure at the situation ‘to whistle at the President is to insult your own country, in the eyes of the world’ while MP Mathieu Lefèvre added: ‘To whistle at the President of the Republic is to whistle at France.’

À l’international : l’annonce d’une “humiliation” à grande échelle

Overall volume of mentions of the President’s booed speech in the French-speaking world and internationally (June to September 2023)

While the ceremony did not escape the attention of rugby fans who turned out to watch Les Bleus’ match against the All Blacks, this “humiliation” went beyond the sporting community to generate fallout, particularly in the mainstream media around the world.

These simple media relays found themselves involved in the exploitation of the situation by political activists on an international scale. Amongst these reactions, Jim Ferguson, a self-described pro-Brexit entrepreneur, published a tweet in which he declared ‘Macron is booed by an entire stadium. His popularity is at an all-time low as people realise he serves his German president Klaus Schwab of the World Economic Forum and not the French people.’

Intended to promote the country’s image internationally, the opening ceremony has heightened tensions after months of street protests. The latest controversy is the alleged censorship of images of the incident, with Twitter users criticising a lack of transparency. For example, reporter Tanguy Lacroix posted a tweet in which he announced: ‘BFMTV has deleted its video of Macron being whistled at during his last speech. Same on TF1: video nowhere to be found.’ before concluding “The Ministry of Truth doesn’t want you to see.”

The succession of sporting events marked by fans’ discontent suggests that the Stade de France is now a veritable agora, where frustrations and protests find a means of expression. Whether it’s a round ball or an oval, these popular sports can no longer shake off the political weight they carry.

By Oumaïma Asri