« Sport is a way of waging war without killing anyone, it is a powerful issue for the image of France », Jean Viard

Jean Viard, sociologist, research director at CNRS, helps us every weekend to answer a social question. We are today at D-1000 before the Olympic Games of 2024 in Paris. The question of the place of sport in French society is topical.

franceinfo: Athletes are asking for it, politicians are showing the ambition that these Olympic Games in Paris be an opportunity to increase the place of sport in the lives of the French. Why would that be important?

Jean Viard: We are not a very, very sporting country when we see the United States, the importance that this has in schools, etc. We are not in there at all. Sport is important for different reasons. First, obviously, for health, for the development of children, etc. But I believe that it is also important because we learn to control ourselves, in particular to control violence. We learn to control ourselves, including in combat sports which play a big role, especially in working-class neighborhoods, etc.

And then, there is a fundamental thing, which is that sport is a collective activity governed by law, and therefore at the same time, a game like a football match, it is at the same time very disorderly , but casually, we learn that there are rules and that they must be respected. So, I believe there is this relationship to the body, this relationship to self-control. And then, obviously, this question of the relationship between collective play and the law, which is an essential element in the construction of the social bond. And then there is the audience and the friends. That is to say, it is basically an enormous scene of collective life.

So, it’s good for the body, for the mind, for the society. However, these Olympic Games in particular are massive investments, public money. The cost is singled out by some, and the answer is often the same. These Olympics will have been useful if they leave a legacy. What heritage are we talking about?

We are developing neighborhoods in the background, we are making a city for athletes, we are making sports halls, etc. Basically, the question is how the money we spend will then be used for certain troubled areas of Ile de France to rely on this equipment for their development. This is what is at stake in legitimizing expenditure, that is to say that, indeed, the expenditure is not only ephemeral for the spectacle, etc., for France’s global position, it is also effectively a territorial benefit.

And there were Olympics which spent absolutely pharaonic sums. Fashion today is economics and ecology. So I would say you have to be thrifty. We must be ecological, and we must say after the popular circles will use it. There is all that which is important. And what is needed is that it is not just « com », but that it is true.

The government has set a target of 80 medals in 2024. It is much more than Tokyo last summer with 33. And Emmanuel Macron also said when he received the Tokyo medalists at the Elysee Palace, that it will take do a lot more. We see that politics and sport are intertwined. Is it old like Herod?

Yes, basically, somewhere, sport is a way of waging war without killing anyone, if we can put it that way, it is a form of competition between nations. Sometimes, some are good at sports for women, sometimes it’s team sports, we have great skill levels. In addition, it is places of mixing, athletes come from all origins, so this is also it. It is an image of a country where there is not only one geographical origin, and of skin color to say it directly. There is all that playing, so it is indeed a way of doing politics.

And when we accept the rule, it means that the country is galvanizing itself and we are doing better than usual. There, they set the bar very high. But it is clear that it is a political issue. It is a stake of power for France, of power of the image of France. In addition, there is Coubertin, there is all the tradition behind. So of course the policies will galvanize. And athletes, it’s a good game, will try as much as possible to recover budgets to train young people, to build equipment, etc. There is also what is in the balance.

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