Tuesday, 7 August 2012

France looks set to win Olympic gold for bad losers

The British are a bunch of cheating bastards!!
'It's not about winning, it's about taking part.' That old adage is well-adapted to the Olympic spirit but I am beginning to suspect that an excessive intake of spirits on the ferry over to Dover from Boulogne may be the reason why French sportsmen and women seem to have left it on the boat upon disembarking.

It is surprising how quickly fortunes can change. A week after the games began France was third in the medals table with Britain languishing somewhere down in the twenties. Those were heady moments indeed and even François Hollande couldn't resist a jibe at our slow start.

That all seems so long ago now though, and Britain is in third place today with a large lead over the French. And it is precisely that which seems to have ulcerated the French press and social media to the point where subtly-worded allegations of cheating by British athletes are now as common as white on rice.

The first sign that something was amiss came when I noticed that Figaro's live news feed (I follow it because it is quicker than the others to post new news) had suddenly stopped posting flashes of  British athletes winning medals. It had posted them up until then up until then so why did they stop? It was because it was on that day that we surged ahead of France, and some of the medals which made the difference happened to have been won in cyclism, a discipline which France holds dear.

Then came 'Super Saturday', August 4th, when Britain picked up more medals in one day than it had for over 100 years, and there wasn't a word about it on most French papers, with the admirable exception of Le Monde which posted a magnanimous article with the headline 'Athletics: the British are the kings of the stadium.' 

It was at about that time that the cheating allegations began to seep into the papers. One of the first I saw was, ironically enough, in Le Monde's Olympics section. The article printed some of the earlier tweets in what was to become a major twitter campaign. 'Britain's basketball opponents won't have the right to enter the British half of the court' quipped one, whilst another chirped the news that 'Murray will be able to get Federer to re-serve his aces by saying he wasn't ready.' This was in reference to the restart that a British rowing team demanded, and got, before going on to win silver in the lightweight double sculls. One of those tweets - 'Bolt applies for British nationality in order to get away with false starts' was used as the article's headline.

All that was harmless enough at first, but the trickle of articles turned into a stream when, as well as the twitter fun, the French press posted articles by journalists who voiced their own suspicions. British cycling medallist Philip Hindes became the target of several papers for his tumble during a race which led, as the rules dictate, to a restart. He was suspected of falling deliberately. Figaro front-paged a piece which discussed not only Hindes, but incidents in rowing and cycling as well as the twitter campaign, which was by now picking up speed (was it doped?!)

Things took a turn for the worse when French athletes and officials began to come up with their own thinly-veiled allegations. Libération led the way with a piece about the suspicions of French cycling boss Isabelle Gautheron, who declared herself to be "perplexed" at the high level of British cyclists' performances, adding that "they haven't dominated everyone this last four years, although they were among the best along with Australia, Germany and France. Now though, they are wiping the floor with everyone. Their women are four seconds faster than the others." She stopped short of openly accusing the British of cheating, but in doing so she was obliged to contradict everything she had said before with a lame "No, people shouldn't express doubts when there are good performances."

The allegations had now reached national TV, and things were getting so heated that Nouvelobs cycling lover Valentin Jaquemet felt the need to call a halt to the excesses of rumour. "Us French must stop being permantly suspicious when we are beaten, and it's worse when we're beaten by the English. [...] Why can't it be because the British are quite simply better than we are?" He goes on to argue that major investment in British cycling means that it has reached a level of professionalism that the French have yet to match. Le Monde (again!) also showed a bit of common sense with an article which exhorts French citizens to "Stop your rosbif bashing." It castigates French "chauvinism" and reminds readers that the British, just like other nations, have had several athletes disqualified so far.

That didn't stop Rue89 keeping the pressure on however, and they posted a harsh article on British cyclists with the full-of-inference headline 'What is the magic recipe with which the British crush the French in track cycling?' Like other articles it stops short of open accusations, but reports suspicions that the British are cheating by illegally customisig bike tyres and, hilariously, one observer even goes so far as to consider that maybe "there is a cog system or a mechanism which supplies inertia to gain or maintain speed..." You couldn't make it up. To be fair though, Rue89 also points out weaknesses in French cycling, such as insufficient funding and bad management of their cyclists' time and training methods.

Mind you, it's not as if the French don't already have a reputation for accusing others of cheating. Ask Rafa Nadal, who was the victim of totally unfounded allegations of doping to the point of becoming the main character of French comedy sketches which implicitly suggested that he used illegal substances. The Spanish are a regular target of French ire, from cyclists to footballers (Barcelona FC) to tennis players and others. And who could ever forget Alain Prost? Although he was a brilliant Formula 1 driver, he too had a nasty habit of accusing others of cheating....but only when he lost.

Ah? I mentioned at the beginning of this entry that Britain had its best Olympic day for over 100 years on Saturday, but a quick look at the news tells me that we did even better today.

So, my French friends, you may suspect us Brits of not being 'fair play', but the unsubstantiated rumour mill you have set in motion is not exactly fair play either, now is it. Not only that, but as I write this we have consolidated our third place, we have almost three times as many golds as you do, and you lot have slipped down to sixth.

It is not to late for you to give us a good run for our money, or even overtake us, but until you start performing instead of moaning you haven't got a cat in hell's chance.

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