It is utterly perverse, and quite typical of soccer, that the French -- the only country with a national anthem worth listening to -- should come up with this choice example of utter buffoonery: if,
when the anthem, La Marseillaise
, is being played before a soccer game, someone boos, then the upcoming game should
immediately be called off.
As to the mechanics -- the logistics, if you like -- of putting that remarkable suggestion into practice, I'll pass over that. Because the main point I
want to address is this: Why do we have to have anthems played at games anyway? What purpose do they serve? Generally speaking, in soccer they are played only at international games -- between
national or club teams. In this country, things are not done by halves, so we have the unalloyed thrill of listening to the Stars and Stripes get mangled before every big game, whether it involves
foreign teams or not. A tradition, of course, but a meaningless one. One that merely lowers the level of respect and dignity that is supposed to surround a national anthem.
But I suppose
there's not much hope of that being changed. So we shall continue to have MLS games introduced by discordant episodes.
For the moment, it seems that this will also continue to be the
case for international soccer games elsewhere. I asked what purpose this rather pathetic display of nationalism serves. As far as I can see, it serves no purpose at all -- no positive
purpose, that is. It enlivens and inspires the fans, maybe? Please, pull the other one. If the fans at an international game need a national anthem to remind them of why they're there and
which team they came to support ... what kind of fans are those?
But from the negative
point of view, the anthems offer a great opportunity to vent spleen and general nastiness
on the opposing team, and their fans and, of course, on their country.
Hence the booing and the general desire of fans to make a lot of rude noises when the other team's anthem starts
up. And when one group of fans does it, it's more than likely that their opposing fans will respond in kind.
Which would be all good clean fun, merely a sign of a highly competitive
game in a great atmosphere -- if it weren't for the fact that anthems are considered sacrosanct, that they are a delicate commodity that must not be treated in the rough-and-ready, robust way that
everything else at a soccer game has to put up with. That alone should indicate that anthems, with their almost religious atmosphere, and the super-sensitivity that surrounds them, do not belong in
raucous stadiums. They are virtually bound
to be treated with disrespect.
Three years ago, FIFA boss Sepp Blatter made a straightforward, very sensible comment on the matter,
after a home-and-home World Cup qualifying series between Switzerland and Turkey had seen both anthems take a battering. Said Blatter: "That was so disrespectful and a slur on a nation's
pride. It makes me wonder if it makes any sense continuing to play national anthems." He added that FIFA would look into the possibility of discontinuing the practice.
No move has
been made, so the tragi-comedy goes on, and here comes French Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot bustling her self-important way on to the scene, furious that La Marseillaise
was booed before a recent France vs. Tunisia exhibition game -- at the Stade de France in Paris, no less. So we got
a stern lecture: "Government members will immediately leave the arena where our national anthem has been whistled. Any match when our national anthem is whistled will be stopped
Talk about keeping politics out of soccer! To his enormous credit, UEFA president and former French star and idol Michel Platini, quickly condemned the idea as absurd.
He was then told -- by the politicians -- to butt out, and that he should stick to soccer matters.
Which is exactly right. But that's what he is doing, because this is a soccer
matter. The fans do not turn up in their tens of thousands because an anthem is being played. They're there to see a soccer game. The occasion is a soccer occasion. It is the politicians who
should stick to politics, and stay out of soccer. But as long as anthems are played, the politicians will always feel obliged to put in their 10 cents worth -- whether it's government ministers or
a politician who seizes on an opportunity to score points. In this case, Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the French far-right National Front, was quick to announce that the booing -- assumed to be by
Tunisian fans -- was proof that the "integration of foreign masses to our culture is a failure as it is a utopia."
Platini is right about the absurdity. But he is in a position
to keep the politicians out of soccer, by putting some steel into his words and simply having UEFA ban anthems at all of its games. Were he to do that, could FIFA lag behind?