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Thursday, 2 July 2009

Not Such A Bastareaud After All?

While Andy Murray and Michael Jackson continue to dominate the headlines in this part of the word, there is a very interesting scandal involving a rugby star brewing in France.

You may remember Mathieu Bastareaud from this year’s Six Nations. Very impressive in the win over Wales, Bastareaud brought a lot of positive attention to himself and it seemed that, at the age of 20, French rugby was looking at a player who could play at centre for the next decade.

More likely than that, however, is that Mathieu Bastareaud came to your attention approximately two weeks ago after France’s second test defeat against New Zealand in Wellington. Not for anything to do with the match itself but for what happened that Saturday night. The initial reports were that he’d been beaten up by “three or four men” while out on the town. Naturally, this provoked a media storm in New Zealand. Ahead of their hosting of the 2011 World Cup, the country was ashamed that a touring international rugby player could be beaten up by one of their own. Yet that’s not what happened.

Within a matter of a few days, the ‘truth’ had emerged. Bastareaud definitely returned to the team hotel in full health. It seems that he had fallen, drunk, in his room, and had lied to avoid getting into trouble with the team management. He returned home to France, disgraced, where it seems he was met with vilification in the national press. RTE reported this revelation with the witty headline Lying Bastareaud Comes Clean.

In the media storm that has erupted, rumour and conjecture have been flying around France. My French is not the best, so I must rely on second-hand reports, but among the rumours is that Bastareaud’s injuries were caused in a fight with other members of the French squad, a fight for which he was made a scapegoat and thus sent home.

So far, this is the tale of a player who, in either the official story (he lied, got caught, owned up) or the rumoured version (he got into a fight with teammates) did wrong and has righty gotten into trouble for doing so. But this is a story that has taken a new turn, one that could have been tragic. It was reported that Bastareaud attempted suicide over the weekend and is now under observation in a psychiatric clinic. Otherwise, he is said to be fine. Thankfully.

Today the French Prime Minister has written a letter to his counterpart in New Zealand, John Key, apologizing for Bastareaud’s actions. Key has termed this an end to the affair and hopefully that is the case, in terms of a public sense, even if it will not be for Bastareaud, who is left to cope with his now damaged career, and possibly also his life.

Today’s development, the intervention of Francois Fillon, most worries me. Bastareaud is one of the few French rugby players who has heritage outside of the country (Guadalupe I believe). This foreign heritage is something which has been seen with many French soccer players but, perhaps for class differences, not in the oval ball game. Would Fillon have intervened if, say, Cedric Heymans was the player involved? Was (if the rumours about the fight are true) Bastareaud made a scapegoat based on his ethnicity? I’m not qualified to discuss the intricacies of French society but to see how this can affect France, watch the Palme D’Or winning The Class from Laurent Cantet. This stunning film engages with the issue in a simple yet philosophical manner, giving an outsider such as myself an insight into everyday life in multi-cultural France.

Whether or not race is a factor, there is also no doubt that Bastareaud has been exposed by French rugby authorities. Little has been done to defend him after the incident and, it seems, next to nothing was done to care for him during the media storm that followed. He reportedly told friends he was feeling suicidal before this weekend but, again, nothing was done to aid him. He was hung out to dry; even representatives of New Zealand police agree with that much. “At least two French players, maybe more, know the truth,” said Peter Cowan, the police chief in Wellington. “One day it will come out.”

Until that day, let’s hope that Bastareaud recovers, and returns to the rugby field sooner rather than later.


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