As the stench of uncleared garbage wafts through parts of Paris, amidst the French workers strikes that have threatened to bring the whole country to a standstill and on the back of a UNICEF report detailing the ever-worsening conditions of child poverty in the country, French President Francois Hollande continues to leave his head buried firmly within ‘le sable’ stating to the French people that: ‘France was chosen to host Euro 2016 and France will live up to the scale of the task. Don’t spoil it for us.’
Today marks the opening day of Euro 2016, the third biggest sporting event in the world behind the Olympics and the World Cup. With the eyes of the world certain to be centered upon France for the next month, the French President is keen to ensure that the watching world sees only the positive sides of France and not the bad sides – of which there are many.
The Stade de France, the jewell in the centre of France’s footballing crown, is the glorious €290 million stadium built in 1998 that witnessed France footballs greatest achievement when the national team, lead by Zinedine Zidane, thrashed Brazil 3:0 to win the 1998 World Cup on home soil. Surrounding France’s jewell are various affluent neighborhoods including the prestigious 7th arrondissement of Paris – Versailles – home to the Eiffel Tower, almost all of the French upper class and various celebrities. [The city of Paris is divided into 20 arrondissements] Just six miles from the stadium lies France’s second most wealthy arrondissement – Nanterre whilst the 16th arrondissement of Paris – Passy – the third richest of the 20 arrondissement’s can be found 7 miles away. These districts of the French capital and the citizens living in them are what Hollande will be showcasing to the world. However, even closer to the Stade de France lies the commune of Bundy – a bastion of the old working class and now known for its poverty stricken residents of Arab and African origins.
Bundy, commonly known as Department 93 signifies a variety of preconceived notions to the people of Paris. Decayed housing projects, crime, unemployment and Muslims to name but a few. France’s banlieues as they are named by the French or suburb slums to me and you are littered throughout Paris and indeed France. Inside the banlieues are the cites: concrete housing projects built during post war France. What were once imagined as utopias for Parisian workers are now segregation’s of poverty and social isolation. The residents of Department 93 are subjects of angry and misinformed discussion in the capital. Bundy is just one of many poverty stricken communities in France. La Grande Borne, Roubaix and Corbeil-Essonnes are three more and Clichy-sous-Bois, Merignac and Mulhouse are another three on top of that. Many more exist.
Paris, the symbolic City of Light is one of the most expensive cities in the world, yet is also home to 28,000 homeless people. When looking into the segregation between social classes in Paris, geography plays a pivotal role. As a whole city, Paris has a poverty rate of 14 percent, which is roughly the national average. However, when the data is organised by arrondissements, the most underprivileged arrondissements have a poverty rate of 40% compared to 9% in the richest arrondissements. According to socialist Michel Pincon, segregation is becoming even more visible in Paris and the wealthy welcome this segregation, “the wealthy are in their own arrondissements, shielded from poverty and far away from social problems.”
To further the embarrassment of the French president, a report published by UNICEF last year declared that more than 3 million children in France are living in poverty. This equates to 1 child in every 5. The report goes on to detail that around 30,000 children in France are homeless with around 9,000 living in makeshift slums. Around 140,000 drop out of school each year. 11% of the population of France are unemployed and rely on the state for their income – a national high. 14% of the total population of France are living in poverty. 18& of all French children are living in poverty. France, like many other European countries has not recovered from the 2008 global recession and it is clearly showing.
According to statistics by France’s National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies, immigrants make up 19% of the total population of France, 20% of the population of Paris are immigrants whilst 41.3% of Parisians under the age of 20 have at least one immigrant parent. It is the cities with larger immigrant populations that are recording the higher rates of poverty. These cities, made up mostly of Arab and African immigrants are mostly ignored by Hollande’s French socialist party. Despite the large number of refugees France takes in from abroad each year, the situation for refugees arriving in France is dire. Lets not forget the importance of immigrants to France. From a footballing point of view Zinedine Zidane is probably the best player France have ever had, yet he is of Algerian descent – both his parents were born in Algeria.
Paris is a city of the haves and have-nots. It is home to some of the poorest people in the country as well as the wealthiest and the divide between the two continues to widen. On the back of a hopefully successful Euro 2016 on and off the pitch, the French President is hoping to lead France to victory in their bid for the 2024 Olympics. Again, Hollande is seemingly keener to showcase his hosting abilities rather than rectify the homelessness problem in his own backyard. Hosting the Olympics has been likened to “a corporate sinkhole sucking billions of dollars and a city’s future into a bottomless abyss of excess.”
The recent workers strikes throughout France look like putting a dampener on the spectacle of Euro 2016 that Hollande wants the world to see. He is seemingly blind to his popularity in the country which has hit a record low. Hollande will be hoping to jump on the back of a French Euro 2016 victory in a hope that it will galvanize the country. His popularity may be further increased if he manages to secure the 2024 Olympics, also. Playing host to the cash hungry degenerates of FIFA may win accolades from some sectors of the French society (even more-so if Les Bleus win the tournament) but hosting these global sporting events is detriment to the poverty crisis that is a plague across the country. To all the poverty stricken, segregated citizens of French society, remember, ‘France was chosen to host Euro 2016 and France will live up to the scale of the task. Don’t spoil it for us!’