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French World Cup win riles racists in Italy, Poland

France's Olivier Giroud and Steve Mandanda celebrate with the trophy after winning the World Cup
France's Olivier Giroud and Steve Mandanda celebrate with the trophy after winning the World Cup REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

France's victory in the World Cup has "given the country optimism", President Emmanuel Macron commented on Wednesday. But it has sparked racist reactions in Italy and Poland and a row over a joke that "Africa has won" on the US's Daily Show.


"This victory has given the country optimism and that's a good thing," Macron told the weekly cabinet meeting on Wednesday, according to government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux.

But, although an opinion poll showed most respondents optimistic about the future after the win, it did not reflect in the president's popularity ratings, which were at a low 39 percent.

Griveaux put on a brave face about that.

"Our compatriots can tell the difference between the World Cup, the government and the president of the republic," he said. "That's a good thing."

Wine, films and the Mona Lisa

But many Italians and Poles were far from happy about the result.

Italy's team having been knocked out of the football World Cup in November, far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini made a point of hailing his own country's 4x400m junior relay team as "today's real champions" for winning the under-20s athletics world cup.

In a spectacular show of sour grapes, he went on to comment that "Italian wine is better than French wine, so is its cinema, and Sardinia is more beautiful than Corsica."

Some less highly placed Italians took exception to the Louvre museum's posting of an image of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa in a French team football shirt, one pointing out that the painting was "born in Italy, by the hand of an Italian".

The Louvre replied that Leonardo himself sold the work to French King François I.

Racism in Italy, Poland

Others vented their disappointment in racist comments.

Quoting la Reppublica newspaper's remark that "It was Africa that won", many abused the team's several black players in phrases like "monkeys with a ball" and "champions of the Third World".

The victory triggered a spike in hate speech in Poland, too.

The Warsaw-based Centre for Monitoring Racist and Xenophobic Behaviour has filed over 30 complaints and plans to file many more in response to what it says were thousands of racist posts about the World Cup.

"Social media users began to send us links to hate speech posts right after the World Cup final on Sunday," the group's head, Konrad Dilkowski, told the AFP news agency. "Then we began to monitor football-related internet sites in Poland. We found racist and hate speech posts under each news item." he said.

There was a similar spike in racist hate speech after Poland lost to Senegal in the group stage of the World Cup on 19 June, he said.

Rights groups say there has been a rise in racist abuse and behaviour since the election of the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government took office in 2015.

Row over 'Africa has won'

The "Africa has won" meme was echoed by other, apparently well-intentioned commentators around the world, including in Africa, but earned them a frosty response in France.

South African-born comedian Trevor Noah took it up on the US's popular Daily Show.

But many French social network users, among them French comic Kevin Razy, rapped him over the knuckles for using the phrase.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro also made the comment.

Macron declined to comment on the "often untimely" remarks of his Latin American counterpart, according to Griveaux.

But he did praise Barack Obama's comments on a visit to South Africa to mark the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's birth.

The former US president cited the squad as an example of the need to look beyond race to embrace our common humanity.

“Just ask the French football team that just won the World Cup," he said. "Not all of those folks looked like Gauls to me. But they're French! They're French!”

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