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Sport, a forgotten theme of the presidential campaign

Three weeks before the first round of the presidential election and two years from Paris 2024, sport remains absent from the campaign. Candidates for the Elysée Palace were invited on Thursday March 17 to a “grand oral” organized by eight institutional and economic players in French sport on the premises of the French National Olympic and Sports Committee (CNOSF) in Paris. But only three of them responded to the invitation: Anne Hidalgo (Socialist Party), Fabien Roussel (Communist Party) and Yannick Jadot (Europe Ecologie-Les Verts).

Valérie Pécresse (Les Républicains) withdrew at the last moment, the day before the event. Four candidates did not meet the criteria required to participate (5% of voting intentions or the support of a political party represented by a parliamentary group): Nathalie Artaud (Lutte Ouvrière), Philippe Poutou (New Anti-Capitalist Party), Jean Lassalle (Let’s resist!) and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan (Debout la France). Emmanuel Macron (La République en Marche) presented the same day in Aubervilliers his program for a second term. As for the last three – Marine Le Pen (National Rally), Eric Zemmour (Reconquest!) and Jean-Luc Mélenchon (La France insoumise) – they did not see fit to move to the Maison du sport français.

Three present out of eight guests: the absence of the main contenders at the Elysée Palace says a lot about the interest shown in sport. “A too often minor theme of the presidential campaign”had lamented the president of the CNOSF, Brigitte Henriques, in a forum at the World published at the end of February.

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Thursday, Brigitte Henriques did not change. “Two years from the Olympic Games, the place of sport must change. We have a unique opportunity to make France a sporting nation”, she recalled, alongside the main representatives of French sport. The latter, if they were disappointed with the very relative success of their “grand oral”, nevertheless congratulated themselves on having shown a united front in front of the candidates and on having “infused” their proposals in the campaign teams. One of them, Philippe Diallo, president of the employers’ organization Cosmos, even betting that “in five years, the candidates will be[aient] all there ».

“The paragraph that we add at the end”

Still, the international context, with the war in Ukraine and the eruption of the Corsican dossier in the presidential campaign, did not facilitate the sports “evangelization” of the candidates. Sport, however, has more than 18 million licensees in France, according to 2018 figures given by the CNOSF – the Covid has led to a drop of 20% to 30% in the number of licensees that clubs have since struggled to win back – and practically affects one out of two French people if we add the practitioners of unsupervised sports or commercial leisure activities (running, sports halls, etc.). It also generates 330,000 jobs, for a turnover of 77.7 billion euros, argues the economic interest group France Sport Expertise, which represents companies in the sector.

Two years from the opening of the Paris Olympics, all political leaders swear by the heritage of these Games and have, since the Covid crisis, made health sport a major national cause.

However, sport occupies only a marginal place in the candidates’ proposals, often “the paragraph that is added at the end of programs”, quips Régis Juanico MP (Generation. s) and member of Yannick Jadot’s campaign team. The term “sport” is even absent from that of Marine Le Pen (RN).

“1,000 swimming pools in five years”

Thursday, Anne Hidalgo, Fabien Roussel and Yannick Jadot all promised to want “to put sport back in the place it should have in French society”. The mayor of Paris wants “simplify the governance of sport”, calls for the return of a full-service sports ministry or even undertakes to “invest 5 billion euros in sports equipment over the next five years”.

The communist candidate promises to increase the budget of the Ministry of Sports to 3 billion euros (1 billion today), in particular to finance “the construction of 1,000 swimming pools and 1,000 sports complexes in five years”or to increase the number of hours of sport at school by recruiting teachers.

Same ambitious envelope allocated to sports for Yannick Jadot who wants, pell-mell, “making sport in the workplace a reality”create – on the model of the Music Festival – an annual sports festival, or even reduce school holidays in favor of a week of outdoor sports – “It would be great for the younger generations”.

In the afternoon, Emmanuel Macron detailed in Aubervilliers (Seine-Saint-Denis) the measures of his presidential program. The president, who launched a financing plan for 5,000 local sports facilities in the fall of 2021 before the Paris Games and wants to generalize, like other candidates, thirty minutes of physical activity at school for the 6 -12 years old from the start of the 2022 school year, this time did not utter the word “sport” during his presentation.

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