Gavin Mortimer Gavin Mortimer

What France’s rugby racism row reveals about the French left

France's lock Bastien Chalureau cries during a press conference related to accusations of racism against him (Credit: Getty images)

Emmanuel Macron spent Monday morning in the presence of the French rugby team and for once he spoke without ambiguity. ‘You are the best prepared team in the world,’ he told them at their training camp south of Paris. ‘You’ll be brothers in arms, fighting from the first minute to the last. The team is bigger than you, just as the nation is bigger than any one of us. Make us proud, make us happy.’ 

France are indeed the bookmakers’ favourites for the Rugby World Cup, the tournament they are hosting for the first time since 2007. On that occasion, they were similarly confident going into the competition, only to be beaten in the semi-final by Jonny Wilkinson’s England. 

The French left, or at least LFI, will defend republican principles when it suits them

Unfortunately France’s preparations for the tournament, which kicks off on Friday evening when they take on New Zealand in Paris, have been overshadowed by a racism row. At the centre of the controversy is the lock forward Bastien Chalureau. In 2020 he was handed a six-month suspended sentence by a court in Toulouse after being convicted of assaulting two rugby players outside a nightclub, and of using racist language.  

Chalureau has always denied the second charge. ‘It was a late-night brawl, nothing more,’ he said after his conviction. ‘So I’m extremely outraged that I’m being falsely accused of racism, and I don’t accept being branded a racist.’ He appealed that charge and his case will be heard in November.  

Not long after his conviction, Chalureau was released by the Toulouse club he played for and he joined Montpellier in a bid to put his past behind him. Last year he won the French championship with his new club and he then earned his first cap for France against South Africa in November. Chalureau appeared in this year’s Six Nations’ match against Wales and in June he was named in France’s preliminary World Cup squad, playing in three of their summer warm-up matches, including twice against Scotland.  

Chalureau failed to make the final 33-man squad for the tournament, but when France’s South African-born lock Paul Willemse was forced to withdraw with an injury last week, Chalureau was drafted in as his replacement. And

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