Sixth fatality reported in New Caledonia violence

French security forces reported another death in armed clashes in the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia on Saturday, the sixth fatality in nearly a week of violent unrest.

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The person was killed in an exchange of fire at one of the many impromptu barricades blocking roads on the island, according to a security official speaking on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorised to discuss the situation publicly.

Two other people were seriously injured in the violence, the official said, confirming French media reports. The official said the firefight erupted at a blockade in the north of the main island, at Kaala-Gomen.

Noumea’s mayor, Sonia Lagarde, said that while overnight violence has eased, ”we are far from a return to normal.”

France has imposed a 11 day state of emergency in the archipelago following protests over voting reforms backed by the government in Paris.

About 1,000 reinforcements for the security services were deployed with increased powers to quell unrest in New Caledonia, which has a population of about 270,000 and whose indigenous population has long sought independence.

French authorities there and at the interior ministry in Paris said that six people, including two police officers, have been killed since Monday.

At least 60 members of the security forces were injured, and 214 people were arrested over clashes with police, arson and looting on Thursday. Two members of the island’s Indigenous Kanak community were among those killed.

High Commissioner Louis Le Franc announced stringent measures Friday under the state of emergency, which will run for at least 11 days, with a curfew in effect from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. French military forces were deployed to protect ports and airports and free up police troops.

“Exceptions to this curfew include essential public service personnel, urgent medical travel, and critical night-time activities,” Le Franc said. He added that curfew violations would result in penalties of up to six months in prison and a fine.

Speaking to broadcaster BFM-TV, Lagarde described the damage caused as ”incredible”.

”It’s a spectacle of desolation. The situation is not improving — quite the contrary — despite all the appeals for calm,” she said, describing the capital, Noumea as ”under siege”.  

The Pacific island group east of Australia, 10 time zones ahead of Paris, is known to tourists for its UNESCO World Heritage atolls and reefs. Tensions have simmered for decades between the Kanaks, who seek independence and the descendants of colonists who want it to remain part of France.

People of European descent in New Caledonia, which has long served as France’s prison colony and now has a French military base, distinguish between descendants of colonists and those who trace their ancestry to the prisoners sent to the territory by force.

Le Franc announced that reinforcements would focus on regaining control of areas in the territorial capital, Noumea, that remain out of control, including Kamere, Montravel, and parts of La Vallee du Tir.

“Reinforcements will be arriving to control the areas that have escaped us in recent days,” he said.

Despite a measure of calm, violence continued in some areas, with fires set on Thursday night at a school and two businesses. Hundreds of extra military and police have arrived in New Caledonia, where roads are littered with debris, and armoured vehicles patrol the streets. It is the worst outbreak of violence in New Caledonia since the 1980s, with palm-lined boulevards in Noumea turned into battlegrounds.

Le Franc announced that a murder suspect surrendered to authorities on Friday, with others still being sought. Prime Minister Gabriel Attal said that about 1,000 extra security forces would be sent to New Caledonia, adding to the 1,700 already present, and authorities would push for “the harshest penalties for rioters and looters.”

French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin said TikTok had been banned because it was being used by protesters, a decision the social media company called “regrettable.”

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Thierry de Greslan, a representative from the hospital in Noumea, expressed concern over the deteriorating situation, worsened by roadblocks in the city.

“We estimate that three or four people may have died due to lack of access to medical care,” de Greslan said. He added that around 50 dialysis patients had been unable to receive their treatments.

“We are having great difficulty bringing our patients and health care workers in. Teams have been working since Monday and are exhausted,” he said.

The number of visits to emergency rooms dropped significantly, with a 50% decrease recently and an 80% reduction on Thursday.

“We are in an urban guerrilla situation with nightly gunshot wounds,” de Greslan said.

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The hospital’s operating rooms are running around the clock, and while the staff is prepared for immediate crises, de Greslan expressed concern about the future.

“We are ready to face this, but I worry about the ‘rebound’ effect on patients not currently receiving care and who are extremely stressed,” he said.

French lawmakers approved changes to the French Constitution on Tuesday that would allow residents who have lived in New Caledonia for 10 years to vote in provincial elections. Independence supporters argue that this change would further marginalise the Kanak community, which makes up about 40% of the population.

The voting reform must still be approved by a joint session of both houses of the French parliament. Macron has indicated that lawmakers will vote to adopt the constitutional change by the end of June unless New Caledonia’s opposing sides can strike a new deal.

A videoconference between Macron and New Caledonian lawmakers planned for Thursday was cancelled as “the different players did not want to speak to one another,” his office said.

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Meanwhile, authorities have detained about 200 of an estimated 5,000 rioters, and security forces placed five suspected independence activists accused of organising violence under house arrest. Sixty-four of the injured are police and security forces.

Darmanin also accused Azerbaijan of interference following visits by several independence leaders, a claim denied by the government in Baku.

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Du vent dans les pales

La source d’informations quotidiennes sur l’énergie et le climat en France.

Pro Energie & Climat Matin France

Par AUDE LE GENTIL

Avec NICOLAS CAMUT et ARTHUR NAZARET

Infos et tuyaux à partager ? Ecrivez à Nicolas Camut, Aude Le Gentil et Arthur Nazaret | Voir dans le navigateur

— Eolien en mer : pas de lauréat, mais une vision

— L’électrification des flottes engloutie d’amendements

— La PPL sur le retrait-gonflement de l’argile dans les remous

Bonjour à toutes et à tous, nous sommes mardi 30 avril. Devant la commission d’enquête sénatoriale, Patrick Pouyanné a sans surprise déroulé hier soir la stratégie climatique qu’il avait déjà détaillée à Bloomberg. Le PDG de TotalEnergies a assumé ses investissements pétro-gaziers et s’est montré offensif, en particulier à propos de ses projets controversés dans des pays peu respectueux des droits humains.

Il faut dire qu’il était bien aidé par des questions très larges, sans relance ou presque, et par des élus de droite et du centre bienveillants. Le président de la commission, Roger Karoutchi (LR), a ainsi taclé les questions “militantes” de ses collègues de gauche.

Il a aussi beaucoup été question de gaz. Patrick Pouyanné, là encore sans surprise, l’a présenté comme une énergie de transition (pour rappel, la climatologue Valérie Masson-Delmotte a contré cet argumentaire lors de sa propre audition) et un outil de flexibilité.

Quant aux importations de GNL russe, “si nous décidons de les bannir, alors il faudra aller chercher ce GNL ailleurs et les prix vont monter”, a assuré le PDG. Et d’ajouter : “Pour TotalEnergies, ce n’est pas un problème ; avec la montée des prix, l’entreprise gagnera plus. Mais je ne le recommande pas.” 

LE NEZ AU VENT. La filière de l’éolien guette. Attend. Soupire. S’emballe. Jeudi, les ministres Bruno Le Maire et Roland Lescure se rendront en Loire-Atlantique pour parler de l’éolien en mer, à l’occasion de la cérémonie de départ de sous-stations électrique du parc éolien en mer d’Engie et EDP.

Au menu : il sera question de recours à l’industrie made in France, de trajectoires et de calendrier. Mais pas du lauréat pour l’appel d’offres en Sud Bretagne, déminent plusieurs conseillères ministérielles, malgré une rumeur persistante.

Cet appel d’offres est “hyper attendu”, selon un énergéticien car il est le premier à porter sur de l’éolien flottant. Daniel Cueff, vice-président à la mer et au littoral de la région Bretagne, s’impatiente, sachant que la Commission de régulation de l’énergie a rendu sa décision le 2 avril. Il souligne néanmoins que ça aurait été “cavalier” que l’annonce soit faite depuis les Pays-de-la-Loire.

Conclusion de notre énergéticien : “Un appel d’offre sans retard, ce n’est pas un appel d’offre français.”

Que dire alors ? “C’est l’occasion de dire quand ils annonceront le choix de nouveaux sites pour développer l’éolien en mer et de confirmer l’appel d’offre géant de 10 gigawatts [baptisté AO10, ndvi]”, imagine le président du Syndicat des énergies renouvelables, Jules Nyssen, qui sera du voyage.

A 14 heures, auditions d’Emmanuelle Wargon, présidente de la Commission de régulation de l’énergie, puis de la ministre Agnès Pannier-Runacher, par la commission d’enquête sénatoriale sur l’électricité. 

A 14 heures 30, assemblée générale du groupe ENGIE.

A partir de 15 heures, examen à l’Assemblée nationale de la proposition de loi sur l’électrification des flottes automobiles.

A 19 heures 30, débat sur le thème “Comment changer d’imaginaire pour sortir de l’impasse climatique ?” organisé par le Grand Continent, avec les philosophes Pierre Charbonnier et Michael Foessel, l’activiste Camille Etienne et l’eurodéputé Raphaël Glucksmann.

BAROUD D’HONNEUR. L’examen de la proposition de loi sur l’électrification des flottes d’entreprise a beau se transformer en eau de boudin, ses soutiens restent mobilisés, notamment du côté des ONG écolos. 

La PPL est “indispensable”, selon Sarah Chadha, chez The Climate Group: “Cette étape est cruciale si nous voulons atteindre l’objectif européen de fin de vente de voitures et de camionnettes neuves à motorisation thermique d’ici 2035”.

Sous conditions. Respire, qui milite contre la pollution de l’air, conditionne son soutien au maintien de l’éco-score, pour encourager l’achat des véhicules électriques les “moins polluants et les plus légers” et la réintégration des taxis et VTC dans le périmètre de la loi. Des amendements dans ce sens, inspirés par l’asso, ont d’ailleurs été déposés dans les rangs de la Nupes (ici, ou encore ). 

La PPL croule sous les amendements, comme nous vous l’annoncions jeudi passé. 325 amendements ont été déposés, dont 51 pour le seul Bruno Millienne (Modem) farouchement opposé au texte, qui veut supprimer chaque article, un à un. 

PPL Cendrillon. L’examen du texte doit débuter vers 21 heures 30, sous l’œil de Patrice Vergriete, ministre délégué aux Transports, qui soutient le texte. Ce qui fait un peu tard pour que le texte soit voté avant minuit. La PPL devrait donc être réinscrite à l’ordre du jour de l’Assemblée en septembre, au plus tôt.

L’ATOME AU CONSEIL CONSTIT’. Maxime Laisney (LFI) et Gérard Leseul (PS) présentent aujourd’hui leur recours contre le projet de loi sur la sûreté nucléaire déposé le 17 avril devant le Conseil Constitutionnel, lors d’une audience à huis clos. Décision prévue “autour du 17 mai”.

Les neufs membres devront décider si le texte est conforme aux dispositions de la Charte de l’environnement. Ils statueront également sur la modification de la loi organique pour permettre la nomination du président d’Orano sur avis du Parlement.

DAC OU PAS D’AC. La startup Jimmy Energies a déposé hier une demande d’autorisation de création auprès du ministère de la Transition écologique, première étape administrative pour son projet de mini-réacteur nucléaire générant de la chaleur à des fins industrielles (nous vous en parlions ici). La demande sera ensuite étudiée par l’Autorité de sûreté nucléaire (ASN).

Débat à venir. “En parallèle du processus d’examen très exigeant mené par les autorités, Jimmy se tiendra à la disposition de toutes les parties prenantes”, indique le PDG et co-fondateur de l’entreprise Antoine Guyot. Il faut dire que l’installation du microréacteur à l’horizon 2026 suscite déjà les craintes d’associations et des élus écologistes locaux

PPL EN TERRES ARGILEUSES. La commission des finances du Sénat désigne ce matin un rapporteur pour la proposition de loi sur l’indemnisation des dégâts causés par le retrait-gonflement de l’argile. Et ça devrait être Christine Lavarde (LR), a appris votre infolettre, et non d’un écologiste.

Rembobinons. A l’Assemblée, cette PPL portée par l’écologiste Sandrine Rousseau, et inscrite dans leur niche, avait rassemblé il y a un an un soutien transpartisan, avec seulement neuf voix contre, et l’abstention de la majorité présidentielle. Mais au Sénat, c’est une autre histoire.

Ça se dégonfle. Christine Lavarde compte proposer le rejet de ce texte en commission des finances, la semaine du 21 mai. Entretemps, elle aura déposé sa propre proposition de loi sur l’indemnisation et la prévention des catastrophes naturelles (votre infolettre vous en parlait ici).

Conséquence : la proposition de loi serait examinée dans sa version originale en séance publique le 30 mai, jour de la niche écologiste. Avec peu de chances d’aboutir, en l’absence de soutien de la droite. Ni même d’être examinée, puisqu’elle a été placée dans l’ordre du jour après la proposition de loi sur les polluants éternels, qui risque d’engloutir les quatre heures de débat dévolues.

Explications de Christine Lavarde : “Ce texte est incomplet et déséquilibré. S’il est appliqué tel quel, le régime assurantiel s’effondre. [C’est] un rejet de la méthode, pas du constat.”

Côté écologistes, la sénatrice Ghislaine Senée, qui espérait porter ce texte, va chercher à convaincre. : “J’ai du mal à imaginer que les sénateurs, qui sont en lien avec les élus locaux, n’aient pas à cœur d’apporter une réponse aux millions de Français concernés. Oui, cela a un coût, mais c’est le dérèglement climatique qui veut cela.”

ENGIE EN AG. Aucune résolution climatique n’est au menu de l’assemblée générale d’ENGIE, mais, selon les informations de votre infolettre, les investisseurs de la coalition Climate Action 100+ devraient néanmoins poser des questions sur l’expansion gazière du groupe. 

“L’absence d’engagement clair à mettre fin à l’expansion gazière”, est mentionnée par un rapport réalisé par l’ONG Reclaim Finance, qui évoque la signature de contrats de long terme pour du GNL américain, au-delà de 2040. L’autre angle mort est le pari industriel de l’entreprise sur des filières qui n’ont pas encore fait leurs preuves à grande échelle, comme l’hydrogène ou le biométhane.

Encouragements. Le rapport salue néanmoins “un développement ambitieux des énergies renouvelables” et une “volonté de d’amélioration” et de transparence. ENGIE refuse de commenter le rapport mais signale que la directrice générale du groupe évoquera sa politique climatique lors de l’AG.

— Le Monde s’est rendu en Camargue, à la rencontre des opposants à une ligne à très haute tension traversant la Camargue prévue par RTE pour électrifier notamment le site industriel de Fos-sur-Mer.

— La chaleur produite par l’incinération de déchets ne doit pas être considérée comme une source de chaleur verte, selon une trentaine d’ONG, racontent mes collègues bruxellois Marianne Gros et Victor Jack.

— EDF a soumis une offre en vue de construire un à quatre EPR en République Tchèque. Les Echos en ont eu vent.

Un grand merci à notre éditeur Alexandre Léchenet.



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#vent #dans #les #pales

Nigeria’s star goalkeeper Chiamaka Nnadozie dreams of Olympic glory in Paris

Nigeria’s Chiamaka Nnadozie, voted Africa’s best goalkeeper in 2023, has also been a key player for Paris Football Club (Paris FC) since 2020, helping the team to a clear victory (3-0) over Montpellier last weekend. Her Super Falcons, Nigeria’s national women’s football team, face South Africa on April 4 and 9 as they vie for a spot in Paris. In the run-up to her adopted city’s Olympic Games, “Maka” is staying strong in her belief that nothing happens by chance.

On July 25, the eve of the opening ceremony of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, Chiamaka Nnadozie hopes to take to the field with her team against Brazil to kick off her first Olympics. Before that, the 23-year-old goalkeeper must help the Super Falcons overcome the last African obstacle in their path: South Africa, whom Nigeria must beat in a double-header on April 4 and 9.

“South Africa have a very, very good team. I think one of their strengths is keeping the ball. They don’t believe in physical football at all. They’re good tactically, technically. I think we will try to work on that to see how we can stop them,” she says with a confident smile.

“It’s meant to be,” she adds. France has had a special importance for the Nigerian goalkeeper throughout her career.

‘The connection is just there’

Nnadozie first captured attention at FIFA’s 2018 Under-20 Women’s World Cup in France, where her performance earned her a call-up to the senior squad for the Africa Cup of Nations that same year. She was the Super Falcons’ goalkeeper for the 2019 Women’s World Cup, also held in France. 

There, the 1.80-metre-tall goalkeeper came up against Les Bleues in the group phase, persistently stymying the French forwards before finally being forced to concede defeat on a disputed penalty. But it didn’t matter: Nnadozie had caught the eye of the footballing world.

So much so, in fact, that her club future was sealed when Paris FC signed her in January 2020. Initially seen as third in their goalkeeping hierarchy, Nnadozie quickly established herself as the first-choice keeper and became a fixture at the club’s training centre in Orly, a southern suburb of Paris.   

“It was so, so terrifying ­[to leave home]. Because I’m the last child of my parents and I have a very, very good relationship with my mom. She’s like my best friend,” she recalls with emotion.

“But you know, at this point in life, you need to work for yourself. You need to hustle to make a living.”

Life in France was a bit difficult at first. “At first I didn’t like it because it was cold.  But with time … I’m used to it now. Now, apart from the language barrier, I’m very happy here … I need to learn French,” she says with a laugh.

“I think I’m a Parisian because I play for Paris, see? And it’s in my blood, and I love it … The connection is just there,” she adds.

And she hopes to be here for the Olympics, even if the road is a long one. If the Super Falcons get over the hurdle presented by South Africa, they’ll have to reach the quarterfinals, or even the final, before they can play in Paris.

An extraordinary 2023

The year 2023 was rich in emotion for the player known as “Maka” by her teammates and fans. In March, she officially extended her collaboration with Paris FC until June 2025.

In the summer FIFA Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, Nnadozie once again shone on the world stage. Nigeria came within a whisker of eliminating England, the eventual finalists, in the Round of 16 (losing 4-2 on penalties after a 0-0 draw). In the group phase, she saved a penalty to snatch a draw against reigning Olympic champions Canada. 

Nnadozie also contributed to her team’s success at the club level last year. In September, she helped her side to a surprise victory over Arsenal and Wolfsburg, giving the Parisian club their first-ever appearance in the Champions League finals.


So when the Confederation of African Football added a CAF Award for the best African goalkeeper of the year, the choice was clear. On December 11 in Marrakech, Nnadozie won the prestigious individual award at a ceremony where Nigeria ended up with a veritable haul: Victor Osimhen was voted best African player of the year and Asisat Oshoala won best female player of the year.


Chiamaka Nnadozie with her trophy for best goalkeeper in Africa at the 2023 CAF Awards. © AFP

“It was incredible. It was a real incentive for me to keep working hard. I now know that the whole world is watching me,” she says. “In Africa, there’s a lot of talent, particularly in Nigeria. So I think that in the next 10 or 20 years, Nigeria wouldn’t lack any good teams in all the categories. So I’m really happy and proud to be part of this project and I’m happy to be Nigerian.” 

The dream of a lifetime

Nnadozie, a native of Orlu in southern Nigeria, faced an uphill battle at the beginning. “In the beginning, my dad was mad at me. ‘Hey, what are you doing? Girls don’t play football,’” Nnadozie recalls him saying.

“Everything changed for him when he saw me playing with the national team. Now he’s my No. 1 supporter and encourages girls to take up soccer.”

She grew up in an environment steeped in the sport: “Nobody was a professional, but my father played, my brothers played and even my older sister played.” 

While Nnadozie had sometimes imagined becoming an accountant, her parents couldn’t afford to send her to school. “I saw girls playing football and making a living from it. I had a bit of talent, so I told myself I’d give it until I was 20 to see if I could break through.”

While she loved playing on the pitch, it was as goalkeeper that she set herself apart. She found herself between the goal posts after her team’s goalkeeper was injured. Her coach saw her immense potential right from the warm-up and gave her an ultimatum: become a goalkeeper – or leave the team. 

“I wanted to play in the field. I refused and went to another academy, but they asked me for money to play. So I had no choice but to come back and become a goalkeeper. And today, I just want to thank Coach Alex for seeing that in me,” she says.

“Sometimes, what’s meant to be is meant to be.”

The rest unfolded like a fairytale. She was spotted at the age of 16 by the Rivers Angels FC, based in the Nigerian state of Rivers, at a scouting tournament for which she won the title of best goalkeeper. The coach and president approached her and offered her a contract.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” she recalls.

Paris and the Olympic dream

Eight years on, Nnadozie is hungry for more – and she isn’t afraid to dream big.

“I want to win the Women’s Champions League with Paris FC and I want us to win the championship. I want to win the World Cup with my country,” she says.

“The Olympics is also an experience I want to have. It’s very special.”

A Nigerian team hasn’t played in the Olympics since the 2008 Games in Beijing – which Nnadozie doesn’t remember watching. In the current squad, only the experienced 36-year-old Tochukwu Oluehi, also a goalkeeper, has played at the Olympic level.

And Oluehi is passing on her aspirations to those following in her footsteps. 

“I love how she talks to us about it, the advice she gives us and how insistent she is in telling us that it’s important to qualify for the Games. We’re a new generation. We have a lot of talented young players. We have ambition and a great state of mind. We can do it,” Nnadozie says.

She hopes the Super Falcons will be able to emulate the triumph of the Super Eagles, the Nigerian men’s team, who in 1996 became Africa’s first Olympic champions by winning gold. If Nnadozie’s enthusiasm and confidence are any indication, Nigeria may even be ready to challenge the US or Canadian teams that have dominated women’s football in recent years.

This has been translated from the original in French.




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Medical cannabis could soon get the green light in France after unprecedented trial

During a years-long experiment that ended on Tuesday, French health authorities gave patients suffering from serious illnesses the chance to use prescribed medical cannabis. As France prepares to put cannabis-based medicines on the market, patients look back at their experience of the trial.

Patience is a virtue. But when faced with indescribable pain on a daily basis, being virtuous is not the priority. At least it isn’t for Valérie Vedere, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1992 and then throat cancer in 2012.

“To appease the burning sensation I get from radiotherapy, I use cannabis therapeutically,” the 58-year-old living in Bordeaux says. “But I also experience pain from antiretroviral treatments for HIV.”

“It’s as if my hands and feet are being squeezed in a vice, which can lead to extreme burning and tingling sensations. I also have muscle spasms that generally take place at the end of the day,” Vedere explains. Her chronic pain is something that can’t be treated with painkillers like tramadol or other opioids. “It’s not suitable for the long-term,” she says.

When France launched a nationwide experiment to test the use of medical cannabis for patients with serious illnesses three years ago, Vedere was determined to participate.

“I had already been using cannabis to ease my symptoms illegally. Now, I would be able to use it legally and have consistent follow-ups with my doctor,” she says. After persuading her doctor that she was a perfect candidate for the trial, she finally became a participant in May 2021 – two months after the experiment was launched.

A leap in the direction of legal medical cannabis

The first results of the trial came trickling in two years later, in 2023. Patients felt their symptoms had improved significantly, with no unexpected side effects. No cases of substance abuse or addiction had been reported.

“Our evaluations show that between 30 and 40 percent of symptoms like pain, spasms, quality of life or epileptic seizures for example, have improved significantly,” says Nicolas Authier, a doctor specialised in pharmacology, addiction and pain who is also the president of the scientific committee tasked with monitoring the medical cannabis trial.

Preparations to make prescribed cannabis-based medicines more readily available, including in pharmacies, are now under way for 2025.

Read moreFrance launches public consultation on legalising cannabis

“Cannabis-based medicines are currently dispensed in hospitals or in hospital pharmacies, but in the long-run, most of them will become available in regular pharmacies much like any other drug,” says Authier.

The French National Agency for the Safety of Medicines and Health Products (ANSM) has until the end of the year to authorise approved cannabis-based products for medicinal use. Those products will then be granted temporary approval for five years – with scope for them be renewed indefinitely – pending a decision by European authorities to market the drugs.

Until then, the patients who were part of the trial will continue to have access to cannabis-based medicines. But as of Wednesday March 27, no new participants are able to join the trial.  

A total of 3,035 people took part in the unprecedented experiment and 1,842 are still receiving treatment today.

An unprecedented experiment

Before the trial was first launched across 275 health facilities in the country, a committee of interdisciplinary scientists – consisting mostly of healthcare professionals and patients – was set up. Together, they defined the conditions under which the experiment would be rolled out, what medicines would be used, the training pharmacists and doctors would receive, how patients would be monitored and the information they would receive.

Health authorities then allowed limited prescriptions for people suffering from five specific conditions: neuropathic pain, some drug-resistant forms of epilepsy, intense oncology symptoms related to cancer or cancer treatment, palliative situations and pathologies that affect the nervous system, like multiple sclerosis.

Patients were only prescribed cannabis-based medicines if available treatment was found to be insufficient, or if they presented an aversion to existing drugs.

Mylène, who is 26 and lives in Paris, has tried a cocktail of medications to combat her cephalgia – a condition that results in recurring and extremely painful headaches. “They are brutal. The pain is permanent, seven days a week. I haven’t had a break since they started in 2014,” she says. “And sometimes I get a particularly painful attack, and it’s as if two cinder blocks are being pressed against my head.”

“I tried all kinds of treatment. Paracetamol, ibuprofen, opioids like tramadol and even morphine. Either the medicine wouldn’t have an effect on me or the side effects were too intense,” the young radiologist explains. “I joined the trial in late December 2023 and started taking medical cannabis droplets morning and night. It’s almost been three months and I am already starting to feel relief. I feel a change that’s really starting to take effect.”

Depending on their condition, patients were given medical cannabis either in oil or dried flower form. Oil droplets were generally taken orally, while dried flowers were inhaled in vaporisers to prevent the potential health risks from burning the plant.

Cannabis-based medicines can have varying degrees of THC and CBD, the two main compounds unique to the cannabis plant, known as cannabinoids. While THC is its primary psychoactive compound, responsible for the typical weed high consumers can feel, it is most efficient in tackling pain. CBD, the second most prevalent compound in cannabis or cannabinoid, is still psychoactive but doesn’t have the same intoxicating effect as THC.

“The majority of patients were given cannabis-based medicines in oil form, which is the treatment that has the longest lasting effect,” Authier explains. “But oil droplets don’t prevent peaks of severe pain that can only be relieved by fast-acting medication … so sometimes we added dried cannabis flowers that patients could inhale using a vape. The effects don’t last very long but are very rapid.”  

However, in February 2024 the ANSM decided to stop prescribing medical cannabis in flower form.

“I wasn’t at the mediation meeting when the decision was taken so I can’t say for certain why,” says Authier. “It seems that the medical cannabis flower looks too similar to the illicit cannabis flower consumed for [recreational] purposes. So that could cause confusion and perhaps spark fears of a potential black market.”

“It’s all very debatable,” Authier adds, unconvinced.

For Vedere, both the oils and flowers are “indispensable”. Angered with the decision to stop prescribing medical cannabis in this form, she wrote an open letter to the French health ministry demanding an explanation.

“I don’t want to take opioids. And when I have sudden attacks of pain, the flowers are the only thing that relieve me,” says Vedere. “So I will just have to continue using the oil that I’m prescribed. As for the flowers, I’ll buy them illegally.”

Based on the five medical conditions that warrant this type of treatment, Authier estimates that between 150,000 and 300,000 people in France could be prescribed cannabis-based medicines, meaning that an entire industry has been holding its breath for the roll-out of the drugs.

While suppliers of the cannabis-based medicines used in the years-long trial were Israeli, Australian and German companies – those tasked with distribution were French.

Along with Germany, France could become the biggest market for medical cannabis in Europe, according to French daily Le Monde.

But despite the promise of a booming market, introducing these drugs to the French market and even getting the trial off the ground has been anything but a bed of roses.

The bad rep of cannabis in France

A few days ago, while attending a Senate hearing on the impact of drug trafficking in France, Finance Minister Bruno le Maire reiterated his position that the decriminalisation of cannabis was a no-go.

“Cannabis is cool and cocaine is chic. That is the social representation of drugs,” he said. “But in reality, the two are poisons. They are both destructive and contribute to the undermining of French society as a whole.”

Despite France being one of the biggest cannabis consumers in Europe, it also has some of the toughest laws against the drug. THC is still classified as a narcotic in France, with the maximum level permitted in any cannabis plant limited to 0.3 percent. CBD is legal as long as the cannabis plant does not exceed the permitted levels of THC.

There is still a lot of stigma around cannabis in France, even though public opinion on its medical use is hugely encouraging. According to a 2019 survey by the national Observatory for Drugs and Addictive Tendencies, 91 percent of French people say they are in favour of doctors prescribing cannabis-based medicines “for certain serious or chronic illnesses”.

Read moreCannabis in France: Weeding out the facts from the fiction

Still, attitudes around the plant are difficult to shift. “It’s impossible to completely shake off the stigma attached to the word cannabis, which is associated with narcotics. So we had to make a real effort to reassure [the medical community] throughout the experiment,” says Authier.

When it comes to medicinal cannabis, politicians and public health officials in France have expressed their concerns through two key arguments. First, that the roll-out of these medicines would be too expensive. And second, that the legalisation of medicinal cannabis will inevitably lead to the legalisation of its recreational use.

“Our objective has always been accessibility. Ensuring that patients have access to these medicines and that doctors prescribe them,” Authier counters. “It was never, as some like to believe, a Trojan horse move to then legalise recreational cannabis. That has absolutely nothing to do with our trial. Opium-based medicines exist without heroin being legalised.”

“We had to deal with some rather dogmatic opinions and deconstruct a lot of beliefs or language to be taken seriously,” he confesses.

The first place to ever legalise medical cannabis was California, in 1996. Colorado followed suit four years later in 2000, then Canada in 2001, the Netherlands in 2003, Israel in 2006, Italy in 2013 and Germany in 2017. To date, around 20 countries in Europe have joined the list, each with their own set of rules and restrictions.

In France, it wasn’t until 2018 that serious discussions around medical cannabis emerged in the public sphere. And it took another three years before the trial began, in 2021.

Now that it looks like medical cannabis is here to stay in France, at least for the next five years, Mylène feels relieved.

“When I was accepted as a participant a few months ago, I thought ‘finally’,” she sighs. “I can see a real step forward and I hope it continues. I hope that it can become more readily available so that as many people as possible can be treated.”



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‘Unprofessional, dirty and wild’: French parliament takes up hair discrimination bill

Those sporting Afro-styled hair, blonde or ginger hair, dreads, braids or even balding heads could gain new protections in France, where a lawmaker from the French Caribbean has introduced a bill that would make discrimination based on hair texture, length, colour or style illegal. While some argue the law is unnecessary, others say it will fill a gap in existing legislation tackling discrimination. 

After years of hearing all sorts of derogatory comments from schoolmates about her Afro-styled kinky hair, Kenza Bel Kenadil was met with the same contempt when she entered the job market. At the tender age of 17, she was told at work that her hair was “unprofessional, dirty and wild”.

When she eventually took a job as a hostess at a hotel in southern France, she was shouted at by management. “Either you go home and change hairstyles”, her boss roared, “or don’t come in to work”.

Discrimination based on hair texture, length, colour or style is at the heart of a bill tabled by Olivier Serva, an MP from the LIOT group (Liberties, Independents, Overseas and Territories) from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. His aim is to ensure that hair discrimination becomes punishable by law. First introduced in September 2023, the bill will be debated in the National Assembly this Thursday, March 28.

A ‘historic’ bill

While Serva leads the political battle to end hair discrimination, Bel Kenadil has been waging her own combat online for years. Now 26, she posts videos on social media – some of which have garnered millions of views – to shed light on the issue.

When her boss at the hotel threatened her years ago, she ended up going home “in tears” and tied her hair up in a bun. “I didn’t understand why my hair would have an impact on my professionalism or employability,” she says.

To prevent that such situations continue into the future, Serva is proposing to add the specific mention of hair to the list of discriminations based on physical appearance.

“It is historic,” Serva said on March 18, after the bill was approved for debate by the French Law Commission, whose role it is to prepare all legislative debates in the National Assembly. “[France] is the first country in the world to recognise hair discrimination at a national level.”

Read moreRacist attacks on pop star Aya Nakamura test France’s ability to shine at Paris Olympics

This is almost true. The US is the only other country to have introduced legislation on hair discrimination. A bill known as the Crown Act (“Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair”) was passed by the House of Representatives in March 2022. It states that any race-based hair discrimination at work, in public accommodations and against those participating in federally assisted programmes such as housing programmes, is strictly prohibited by law.

The bill, which especially strengthened school and workplace protections for Black women who are disproportionately affected by hair discrimination, was passed in 24 states including New York, California, Arizona and Texas. But to date, federal legislation has been unsuccessful, as Senate Republicans blocked the act from passing in December 2022. 

In the UK, the Equality and Human Rights Commission issued a directive in October 2022 on preventing hair discrimination in schools. Aimed at helping “school leaders foster an inclusive environment,” the guidance refers to sections of the Equality Act to ensure institutions are not unlawfully discriminatory in their policies. Though applied to all forms of hair discrimination, there is a focus on race because “research and court cases indicate discrimination … disproportionally affects pupils with Afro-textured hair or hairstyles”.

A legal framework exists – but is it enough?

Back in France, the introductory text for Serva’s hair discrimination bill states that “people who suffer discrimination based on their hair texture, colour or style lack a specific legal framework”.

But not all MPs share his sentiment on the issue, arguing there is already ample legislative recourse to combat discrimination based on physical appearance in France.

“This is a typical example of a bad idea. There is no legal gap,” labour law specialist Eric Rocheblave told French news agency AFP. Under French labour law, “discrimination based on physical appearance is already prohibited” even if there is no “explicit [clause] on hair discrimination”, he said.

If there was a case of discrimination “based on hair, lack of hair, colour, length or appearance, I could link it to existing legislation,” Rocheblave insisted.

Article 225-1 of the national criminal code lists 25 instances that would constitute discrimination prohibited by law, such as sexual orientation or political beliefs. But for advocates of a French law on hair discrimination, the list does not go far enough.

“If it did, we wouldn’t be turned away from jobs because of our hair. We wouldn’t be subjected to [derogatory] comments from colleagues. And the Air France steward wouldn’t have had to take his case to France’s highest appeals court,” Bel Kenadil counters, referring to Aboubakar Traoré, who sued Air France in 2012 for discrimination after he was barred from flights for wearing braids tied back in a bun.

The company said his hairstyle did not conform to the rules in the flight manual for staff, which allowed women but not men to have braided hair in the cabin.

Ten years later, France’s highest appeals court ruled in favour of Traoré. But the decision issued by the court stated that the company policy amounted to gender discrimination, not hair discrimination.

Hair style, colour, length or texture

Even though Article 225-1 states that “distinctions made based on a person’s origins, sex, family status, pregnancy, physical appearance … constitute discrimination”, Serva is set on providing a “necessary legal clarification” by including “haircut, colour, length, or texture”. This precision would then have to be included in clauses of the French Labour Law and Civil Service Code that deal with discrimination.

Because France does not collect data based on race, ethnicity or religion, there are no national studies on the extent of hair discrimination against Black people in France.

But according to a 2023 US study carried out by Dove and LinkedIn, Black women’s hair is “2.5 times more likely to be perceived as unprofessional”. And a UK study from 2009 cited in the introductory text to Serva’s bill found that one blonde woman in three dyed their hair brown to increase their chances of being recruited and to be perceived as “more intelligent” in professional settings.

Serva also said hair discrimination affected balding men in an interview with French radio station France info in April last year, claiming researchers had proven that balding men were “30 percent less likely to be able to climb the ladder in their company”.

A public health issue

MPs from the conservative Les Républicains and far-right National Rally parties have criticised the bill, calling it an “importation of ‘victim logic’ into French law”.

Bel Kenadil says she understands how “one can question the existence of something when one hasn’t been a victim of it”. On the other hand, she adds, “for me, when even one single person is discriminated against, no matter how, that person must be protected”.

In a video posted on her Instagram account, the influencer sports a variety of hairstyles and assures everyone she is “professional”, while the caption reads: “My appearance doesn’t have anything to do with my skills.”

Countless testimonials of people who have been discriminated against because of their hair flood the comments section. “When I was a young student nurse, I had braids put in, and then I was asked if they were clean,” one follower writes. “I was told to straighten my hair for job interviews,” another laments. Other stories beyond the comments section of her Instagram profile have shocked Bel Kenadil. “A person with blonde hair was turned down for a job because her hair colour wasn’t ‘serious enough’,” she says. “A receptionist recorded an exchange in which her employer berated her, saying, ‘In your interview, you were told loose hair or hair tied up, but nicely styled. What is this? It looks like a lion’s mane.’”

The explanatory text accompanying Serva’s hair discrimination bill mentions the importance of self-esteem and personal confidence, but also touches on a significant health factor when it comes to Afro-textured frizzy or kinky hair.

“A person who is unable to wear their hair naturally in a professional or educational setting will either be forced to hide their hair or change it using chemical products,” the text reads. “This is far from harmless. Tight hairstyles can eventually lead to traction alopecia (hair loss from hairstyles that pull on roots), and products used to chemically straighten hair can cause scalp burns.”

2022 study by the US National Institute of Health (NIH) found that women who used chemical hair straightening products were at higher risk of developing uterine cancer than women who did not.

“This is proof that this topic needs to be taken seriously,” Bel Kenadil insists. “I don’t mind hearing that there are more serious issues. But if that is our starting point, we will never make progress on anything.”

This article is a translation of the original version in French. 



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Will the 2024 Olympics change image of Paris region’s troubled Seine-Saint-Denis?

Less than 500 metres separate the Stade de France — the sparkling centrepiece of the Paris Olympics — and the crumbling Francs-Moisins estate plagued by poverty and crime.

Samia Achoui, a secretary who lives in one of the grey blocks dogged by drug dealing, doesn’t have a ticket to see the Games.

Instead she will listen from her window to the cheers and applause echoing over the canal.

Despite its name, the Paris Olympics will take place mostly in Seine-Saint-Denis on the other side of the “peripherique” ring road that divides the French capital from some of its poorest and most notorious suburbs, known as banlieues.

The densely populated working-class department north of Paris hosts four of the Games’ big venues, the athletes’ village and other key Olympic sites.

Paris’s pitch for the Games — which run from July 26 to August 11 — leaned hard on regenerating an area that has absorbed wave after wave of immigration and has the country’s youngest population. A third of its 1.6 million people lives below the poverty line.

France not only hopes to use the Olympics to turbo-charge ongoing redevelopment there, but to recast the fevered image of Seine-Saint-Denis as a crime-ridden collection of ghettos forged during suburban riots which started there in 2005.

Its reputation took a further battering in the world’s media after the 2022 Champions League Final fiasco, when football fans were attacked and robbed on their way into the Stade de France.


French security forces are seen before the 2022 Champions League final at the Stade de France outside Paris. © Maryam El Hamouchi, AFP

‘People’s Games’?

Mohamed Gnabaly is relentlessly upbeat about how the Games could help change Seine-Saint-Denis.

The mayor of Ile-Saint-Denis, the narrow island in the River Seine where part of the athletes’ village has been built, is “obsessed” about making the Olympics “a people’s Games”.

Read moreParis 2024 Olympic Village: A welcome makeover of Seine-Saint-Denis?

So much so that his little municipality has bought 7,000 tickets — one for pretty much all of its inhabitants.

The island, which has its share of grim apartment blocks, has been turned upsidedown by construction works for the Olympics.

But the mayor is determined it will now extract the maximum benefit from the Games, notwithstanding that his town hall was ransacked when rioting again erupted in poor suburbs across France last June after police shot and killed a teenager at a traffic stop just outside Paris.

“I have been working on this for three years,” said Gnabaly, who is proud the island is also home to the Olympics’ “Africa Station”, a fan zone dedicated to African culture and sport.

Mohamed Gnabaly (R), the mayor of Ile-Saint-Denis, shows French President Emmanuel Macron around the Olympic Village.
Mohamed Gnabaly (R), the mayor of Ile-Saint-Denis, shows French President Emmanuel Macron around the Olympic Village. © Ludovic Marin, AFP

“We have suffered (with all the work) but not only will this transform our town, we will be at the heart of the reactor,” the mayor insisted. “We are not going to be left out by the Games.”

His optimism is not shared by everyone across Seine-Saint-Denis.

“There are two extremes,” said Cecile Gintrac of Vigilance JO, a local watchdog group. “One part of Paris is going to be a big party while the other won’t be able to go to work or get around” because of all the Olympic road closures and restrictions.

Delivery driver Moussa Syla, 45, who lives in the Francs-Moisins estate — which is also getting a major facelift — said the thought of the disruption brings him out in a cold sweat.

“It is going to be a nightmare to get around,” he said.

Renaissance

It is hard to go anywhere in Seine-Saint-Denis these days without seeing scaffolding or cranes building whole new neighbourhoods.

The Olympics is part of a long-term push to drag up the department that began with the symbolic decision to build the Stade de France there for the 1998 World Cup, which France’s “rainbow” multiracial team went on to win.

French football legend Thierry Henry (L) and Youri Djorkaeff kiss the World Cup trophy after France won it at Stade de France in 1998.
French football legend Thierry Henry (L) and Youri Djorkaeff kiss the World Cup trophy after France won it at the Stade de France in 1998. © Gabriel Bouys, AFP

High property prices in Paris and a massive soon-to-delivered extension of its metro system into Seine-Saint-Denis — Europe‘s single biggest infrastructure project — has made the department attractive for developers.

Companies like Tesla are moving their French headquarters to its former industrial areas where factories have long shut.

“We need to find a second wind for Seine-Saint-Denis so jobs stay here,” said Isabelle Vallentin, the number two at Solideo, the state body charged with delivering the Olympic projects.

And Seine-Saint-Denis’s “extremely decrepit housing has to be developed,” she added.

A large slice of the 4.5-billion-euro ($4.8 billion) building budget for the Games is going into this push, with the department the big winner, taking around 80 percent of 1.7 billion euros in public money. While private investment is harder to quantify, it likely is not far behind.

Housing legacy

The Olympic Village, the Games’ biggest building project and a whole new eco-neighbourhood in itself, will house 14,250 athletes and their support teams as well as 6,000 Paralympians.

Part of the Olympic Village, where many of the buildings are made of wood.
Part of the Olympic Village, where many of the buildings are made of wood. © Ian Langsdon, AFP

Built on a former industrial zone along the River Seine, it is architecturally varied, with many buildings overlooking the river. All those under eight floors are built of wood and all the village’s energy comes from heat pumps and renewables.

Once the Paralympics finish, the village will morph into a mixed neighbourhood of apartments and offices, the first of its 6,000 new residents moving in early next year, followed by a similar number of workers.

But only a third of the 2,800 apartments will be sold on the open market.

Contrary to previous Games like London — where the organisers were accused of “gentrification on an industrial scale” and not keeping their promises to locals — Solideo’s Vallentin said they insisted developers “respond first to (local) housing needs”.

So 25 to 40 percent of the apartments, depending on the three municipalities the village spans, will go to social housing, with the rest let out at “affordable” rents through semi-public housing bodies.

Seine-Saint-Denis’s other big headline win is a clutch of new swimming pools, of which it is in dire need.

The most eye-catching is the Olympic Aquatic Centre, a spectacular undulating wood edifice opposite the Stade de France where the diving, water polo and artistic swimming medals will be decided.

The spectacular wooden aquatic centre built for the Paris Olympics.
The spectacular wooden aquatic centre built for the Paris Olympics. © Bertrand Guay, AFP

It will also get the main Olympic pool, which is to be dismantled and divided in two after the Games, as well as a new training pool. The organisers are also helping pay for two others.

‘A real plus’

Olympic-related sites have been popping up like confetti across Seine-Saint-Denis, with the little town of Dugny likely to be transformed by the Games.

Its population is set to grow by a third with housing on a site inherited from the Olympics’ “media cluster”. Badly served by public transport until now, Dugny is using the Games to diversify its housing stock, 77 percent of which is social housing — the highest rate in France.

One-third of the 1,400 new homes are being set aside to help get people on the property ladder.

Dugny’s young mayor Quentin Gesell said many of his friends “who had grown up like me in Dugny have had to leave because they can neither buy here or rent [their incomes being too high for social housing] when they would have preferred to stay close to their families”.

Another more subtle transformation is likely to come through a series of new footbridges linking areas long divided by the major road and rail arteries that slice through the department.

Back near the Francs-Moisins estate, a foot and bike bridge is being built across the Saint-Denis canal to the Stade de France, replacing an old and unreliable rotating road bridge and a steep-stepped pedestrian crossing.

“It’s a nightmare to cross now,” said Karene, a mother of three. “You have to fold up the pushchair and take the baby in the other arm. So this is really great, a real plus for the area.”

The bridge had been talked of for years but the Games got it over the line, putting up two-thirds of the 10.5-million-euro cost.

The Olympics have been the “pivot point that has accelerated the transformation” of the department, Stephane Troussel, the socialist head of Seine-Saint-Denis council, told AFP.

“In record time we have managed to deliver a huge amount of infrastructure, housing, roads and bridges,” he said.

‘Badly paid’ jobs

But there are doubts over the jobs the Games promised to deliver to the department, whose 10.4 percent unemployment rate is nearly a third higher than the national average.

“The Games are recruiting — get yourself a job!” declared the flyer for an Olympic job fair near Charles de Gaulle airport in December.

“I have been to a lot of these and it’s always the same,” said Fouad Yousfi as he went between stands looking for cleaners and pastry chefs. “Not exactly the companies you would like to work for, and often badly paid.”

Stephane Laurent, 47, who was looking to “get work quickly”, left another fair in Saint-Denis with an offer to train as a security guard — something the Games have a huge need for.

While around 180,000 people will work on the Games, according to official estimates, most will be on short-term contracts, such as the 6,000 people taken on by Sodexo for catering at the Olympic Village.

Paris Olympics 2024: Seine-Saint-Denis, a French department of contrasts.
© Sabrina Blanchard, Sylvie Husson, AFP

“We have to be honest, there is probably a mismatch between what was expected of the Games and the level of unemployment and precarity we have,” said Bernard Thibault, a former CGT union leader who sits on the Olympics committee.

Local firms have also benefited, picking up contracts worth 330 million euros, according to Seine-Saint-Denis council.

But others question whether the Games’ economic dividend has filtered down.

“We are one of the winners,” said Mehdi Ourezifi of Services Persos, a local back-to-work nonprofit that landed part of the laundry contract for the Olympic Village. “But generally local companies and back-to-work schemes are disappointed” given the windfall the Games offered, he added.

Stubborn old image

Yet beyond the economic and infrastructural gains, one of the biggest Olympics legacies could be how Seine-Saint-Denis is seen.

Police have already stepped up operations targeting drug dealers, street vendors and others who “monopolise public spaces”, and a massive security operation is planned for the Games themselves.

But after a police station was attacked last week after a youth was killed by a police car during a chase, and the head of the Mongolian delegation was robbed of jewels worth nearly 600,000 euros on his way to a security committee meeting in October, the bad old image is proving difficult to shake.

In welcoming visitors from all over the world this summer, Seine-Saint-Denis hopes to write a new chapter of its history, one that plays up its diversity and potential rather than crime and sporadic outbursts of rioting.

Back on the Francs-Moisins estate, Karene is praying that “the visibility” will do everyone good.

“I hope it is well organised, because if it is like the football (the chaotic scenes before the 2022 Champions League Final), Saint-Denis’s image will plummet again.”

(AFP)

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For 2024 Paris Olympics, Colombes’ historic stadium regains its former lustre

One of France’s most historic sporting venues, the Colombes stadium northwest of the French capital was the principal venue when Paris hosted the Olympic Games in 1924. After undergoing thorough renovations, the site will recover some of its former glory by again playing host to Olympic sport this summer.

The refurbished Yves-du-Manoir stadium in Colombes was inaugurated this week in great style, in the presence of Paris Olympics organising head Tony Estanguet, French Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra and other dignitaries.

“It’s a wonderful nod to history, to France‘s sporting heritage,” said three-time Olympic medallist Estanguet at the inauguration ceremony on Tuesday. The Colombes stadium will be the only Paris 2024 venue to host Olympic events for a second time: at this year’s Games, the stadium will be the site of the field hockey matches.


A part of the renovated Yves-du-Manoir stadium in Colombes, near Paris, on March 19, 2024. © Miguel Medina, AFP

In the run-up to the Games, the century-old stadium underwent 22 months of renovation. Two synthetic field hockey pitches were built, one with seating for 1,000 spectators. The 6,000-spectator stands on the main pitch, a vestige of the original stadium, were refitted and will be supplemented by temporary stands installed for the Games.

The nerve centre of the 1924 Olympic Games

A century ago, the Colombes stadium was the epicentre of the Paris Games, and it was even the site of the opening ceremony on July 5, 1924.  Today, it’s hard to imagine “the 20,000 spectators squeezed into the standing room” for the opening, says historian Michaël Delépine.

“It was the nerve centre of the Games. Just behind it was the first Olympic village. It was a bit spartan, with little wooden huts,” says Delépine, author of the book Le Bel Endormi: Histoire du stade de Colombes (“Sleeping beauty: History of the Colombes stadium”).

The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games at the Colombes stadium, July 5, 1924.
The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games at the Colombes stadium, July 5, 1924. © Gallica, BNF

The eighth Olympiad of the modern era, in 1924, featured 3,089 athletes, 135 of whom were women, representing 44 nations and competing in 17 sports. The Colombes stadium hosted football, equestrian events, rugby, gymnastics and, above all, track and field.

At the time, it was the “Flying Finns” who dominated the middle- and long-distance races. Paavo Nurmi and his compatriot Ville Ritola performed heroically, winning nine gold medals between them.

Members of the Finnish athletics team at the 1924 Olympic Games, including Ville Ritola and Paavo Nurmi.
Members of the Finnish athletics team at the 1924 Olympic Games, including Ville Ritola and Paavo Nurmi. © Carte postale ancienne

An homage to ‘Flying Scotsman’ Eric Liddell

Perhaps the best-known rivalry from the 1924 Games was between British sprinters Harold Abrahams and Eric Liddell, whose story features in the 1981 movie “Chariots of Fire”.

A plaque in honour of Liddell was unveiled at the Colombes stadium this week. The French consul general in Scotland, Stéphane Pailler, who organised the ceremony, noted that “Eric Liddell left his mark on the Olympic Games because he gave up running on Sundays for religious reasons. Knowing that he would not be able to compete in the 100-meter event, for which he was one of the favourites, he decided to compete in another event, the 400 meters. Not only did he win the gold medal in this event, he also broke the world record for the discipline.”

Scottish athlete Eric Liddell after his victory in the 400-meter race at the 1924 Olympic Games.
Scottish athlete Eric Liddell after his victory in the 400-meter race at the 1924 Olympic Games. © Wikimedia

Born in China to Scottish missionary parents, Liddell himself became a minister and returned to China, where he died in a Japanese prison camp in 1945. Stephen Shin’s 2016 film “On Wings of Eagles” recounts his tragic end. “His sporting and human legacy remains a symbol of friendship between France, Scotland and the UK. A legend. A legacy. A source of inspiration,” the new memorial at Colombes reads.

Following the success of the 1924 Games, the Colombes site – officially named the Yves-du-Manoir Olympic Stadium from 1928 in honour of a Racing Club de France rugby player who died in a plane crash – became a key venue for French sport. “Colombes attracted the greatest sportsmen and sportswomen and the most celebrated spectators,” says Delépine.

The stadium was the scene of 17 world records between 1924 and 1980, 42 French Cup finals between 1924 and 1971, and 79 matches of the French national football team. It also hosted Italy’s victory over Hungary in the 1938 football World Cup final;  the French national rugby  team’s first victory over New Zealand’s All Blacks in 1954; Pelé‘s only match on French soil with Brazil’s Seleçao in 1963; the European Cup quarter-final between Johan Cruyff’s Ajax and Benfica on March 5, 1969, with a record 63,638 spectators; and, not least, the world middle-weight boxing title match between Frenchman Jean-Claude Bouttier and Argentina’s Carlos Monzon in 1972, with 40,000 spectators in attendance.

Brazilian footballer Pelé, centre, is surrounded by three French players on April 28, 1963 at Colombes.  Pele scored all 3 goals for his team as Brazil beat France 3-2.
Brazilian footballer Pelé, centre, is surrounded by three French players on April 28, 1963 at Colombes. Pelé scored all 3 goals for his team as Brazil beat France 3-2. © AFP

A stadium reborn

Colombes fell from favour with the opening of the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris in 1972, but was given a second lease on life at the turn of the 2000s when Racing Club de France sold it to the local authorities, who promoted it as a venue for amateur sports.

The Colombes stadium will regain its Olympic lustre by hosting field hockey matches from July 27 to August 9. “It’s obviously moving to see this venue host another Olympiad. This stadium, which is sometimes labelled as a stadium of the past and hasn’t hosted a major event for several decades, is proving that we can write a new page, one of the finest in its history, 100 years on,” Delépine says.

After the Games, the 18-hectare site, which also includes football and rugby pitches and a running track, will also welcome the headquarters of the French field hockey federation. The new stadium is intended to benefit “local residents, with sports activities open to associations, schools and perhaps even universities”, Oudéa-Castéra said at the inauguration.

For Delépine, the story of Colombes’ Stade Yves-du-Manoir is just beginning: “We can imagine that in decades to come, there will still be sport in Colombes, and hopefully both at the elite and the amateur level.”

This is a translation of the original in French.


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India punishes critics by revoking visas and residency permits

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi often draws crowds of supporters from the Indian diaspora on his foreign visits. But back home, his administration has been revoking visas and residency permits of foreign nationals of Indian origin as well as spouses of Indian citizens. For those denied access or kicked out of India, the experience can be traumatic.

 

Vanessa Dougnac was at home in her New Delhi apartment on January 18, when she received a hand-delivered envelope that raised her spirits.

The French journalist glanced at the letterhead bearing the insignia of the Indian interior ministry’s Foreigners Regional Registration Office (FRRO) and immediately thought this meant good news.

“Then I read the letter. It was totally the opposite. It was really, really bad news,” she recounted. 

Dougnac, 51, had lived in India for a quarter-century, or most of her adult life. For 23 years, she served as the India-based freelance correspondent for a number of French publications. Along the way, she covered stories across the country, married an Indian national, raised a son, and mastered the ropes in the place she came to call home.

But in India, things that were once fairly straightforward were now getting complicated – and stressful.

The official letter, delivered on January 18, informed the veteran French journalist that her Indian residency had been revoked. 

Dougnac had joined the growing list of overseas critics of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist policies being banned from India, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

They are part of the Modi administration’s broader crackdown on Indian citizenship laws, which have snowballed in various forms. But the intent of the “ever-expanding arsenal of laws and policies” is singular: to “target and punish dissenting voices”, said Amnesty International in a statement noting the international human rights contraventions that have increased during Modi’s 10 years in power.

With the upcoming 2024 elections widely predicted to propel Modi into his next decade in power, experts warn that India’s secular democracy is being reshaped as a Hindu-first majoritarian nation intolerant to dissent and minority religious communities. 

Citizenship lies at the heart of the reshaping, with the government pushing through laws and regulations on myriad fronts, upending lives and plunging dissenters into an omnipresent state of dread.

Diaspora with dollars to invest home

Dougnac was one of nearly 4 million people holding an Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card, which comes as a light blue, passport-lookalike and confers on the holder visa and residency rights.


The OCI is a form of permanent residency granted to people of Indian origin and their spouses. © Handout

Since India does not permit dual citizenship, OCI cards are provided for the equivalent of $275 to foreign nationals of Indian origin and the spouses of Indian nationals or OCI card-holders.

The residency status is the latest iteration of a decades-long bid by successive governments to tap into the economic potential of the Indian diaspora, the largest in the world, clocking nearly 18 million in 2020, according to UN figures. It’s also among the wealthiest, with strong ties to the motherland. In 2022, for instance, India’s inward remittances hit a record of almost $108 billion, around 3% of GDP, more than in any other country.

Attracting the diaspora’s dollars without offering citizenship rights historically entails acronyms in India. NRIs (Non-Resident Indians) before the 1990s gave way to PIOs (Person of Indian Origin) before the nomenclature settled on the current OCI. The latest overseas “citizen” of India is a misnomer since holders do not have voting rights or citizenship guarantees. But since the OCI privileges were an improvement on the earlier NRI and PIO categories, few made any fuss.  

That was until the government began tinkering with citizenship and visa regulations after Modi was re-elected in 2019 to a second term in office.

Many acronyms, few rights 

Just months after Modi’s May 2019 re-election, the Indian parliament, dominated by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), passed a controversial citizenship amendment law, which gained notoriety as the country erupted in what was commonly called “anti-CAA” (Citizenship Amendment Act) protests.

File photo of anti-CAA protests in Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi, taken January 18, 2020.
File photo of anti-CAA protests in Shaheen Bagh, New Delhi, taken January 18, 2020. © Altaf Qadri, AP

The new law, which offers citizenship to non-Muslim migrants and refugees from neighbouring countries, was widely criticised for discriminating against Muslims, an allegation the Modi government denies.

While the anti-CAA protests drew international press coverage, the insertion of a subclause covering OCI cancellations passed largely unnoticed.

As Modi nudged past the half-way mark of his second term, the regulations got tighter. By 2021, the government required its overseas “citizens” to apply for “special permission” to “undertake” research, journalistic, missionary or mountaineering “activities”.

So on January 18, when Dougnac received a letter from the Foreign Regional Registration Office (FRRO), she initially thought she had finally received her journalist permit, which was denied in September 2022, for no stated reason.

For the freelance journalist, the denial of a journalist permit meant a precarious dip in her income and she was eager to get back to work.

But that was not to be. The FRRO letter revoking Dougnac’s OCI instead accused her and her articles of being “malicious” and of harming “the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India”. The notice put the onus on the freelance journalist, requiring her to respond to why her OCI should not be cancelled. 

Dougnac has launched a petition in the Delhi High Court, adding to the legal appeals and challenges launched by several others in a similar state. But nearly a month after she received her notification, Dougnac was forced to leave the country she had made her home for 25 years and return to France. 

In a statement released February 16, the French journalist noted that it had become “clear that I cannot keep living in India and earning my livelihood. I am fighting these accusations before the competent forums and I have full faith in the legal process. But I can’t afford to wait for its outcome. The proceedings with respect to my OCI status have shattered me,” she noted.

‘Showing animus’ to governments, not country

The list of shattered lives has been increasing over the past few months, perpetuating a climate of fear among overseas Indians. An investigative report published on February 12 by Indian news site Article 14 found that more than 102 OCIs were cancelled under section 7D between 2014 and 2023.

Many targeted OCI-holders prefer not to speak to the press out of fear of scuppering their appeals process and being permanently deprived of the ability to travel to a country where many have families, including aging parents and ailing loved ones.

Some high-profile cases do make the news, such as British-American writer and journalist Aatish Taseer, whose OCI was revoked in 2019, shortly after Time magazine published his excoriating cover story, “India’s Divider in Chief”, on Modi’s brand of Hindutva populism.

Indian authorities said Taseer’s OCI was revoked because he “attempted to conceal” the fact that his biological father was a Pakistani national. The journalist, who was brought up in India by his single mother and wrote a critically acclaimed book in 2009 on his journey to meet his father, Pakistan’s former Punjab governor Salman Taseer – who was assassinated two years after his son’s book was published – dismissed the claim.

The official cancellation explanations for the recent spate of OCI scraps include ill-defined allegations of “showing animus” towards India, or “attempting to destabilise the social fabric” of the country. 

“In some cases, the authorities have openly cited criticism of BJP government policies as evidence to revoke the visa status,” noted Human Rights Watch, citing the case of octogenarian British activist Amrit Wilson, whose OCI was cancelled due to her social media posts on the Kashmir crisis and a 2020-2021 farmers protest movement.

Indian authorities note that governments across the world have the discretion to grant or refuse visas to their countries. It’s a point that Meenakshi Ganguly, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, acknowledges. “Of course, every government has the right to determine who gets visas or not. But those rights cannot be based on discriminatory ideas,” she noted. “Any democracy relies on a foundational principle of permitting dissent. That is what distinguishes it from authoritarianism. Now all dissent and all ideas may not be accepted by the state. But the fact that those opinions are put forward should not be seen immediately as something that is against the country, it is against government policies, and governments change.”

‘I miss India’

In its attempts to ensure the government does not change after the 2024 general election, the Modi administration has been pushing through key campaign promises that are popular with the BJP’s Hindu nationalist base.

On March 11, just weeks ahead of the elections, the Indian government announced the implementation of the new citizenship law. While parliament approved the CAA in 2019, the Modi government held off on the implementation following deadly protests against a law that was widely viewed as discriminatory against Muslims.

Responding to the move, the US expressed “concern” with a State Department spokesperson noting that Washington is “closely monitoring how this act will be implemented”.

The concern was echoed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “As we said in 2019, we are concerned that India’s Citizenship (Amendment) Act 2019 (CAA) is fundamentally discriminatory in nature and in breach of India’s international human rights obligations,” said a spokesperson.

The Modi administration’s response to the expressions of concern was forthright. The citizenship law was an “internal matter”, an Indian foreign ministry spokesperson told reporters in New Delhi, noting that the US State Department’s statement was “misplaced, misinformed and unwarranted”. 

But Ganguly believes the changes in citizenship and residency laws warrant the attention of India’s democratic allies, particularly those measures that affect their own nationals of Indian origins. “It needs attention from foreign governments, because there is a lot of interest in the Indian market and in strategic partnerships. Those are legitimate interests. But when they want to do business with India, foreign governments need to be aware that any claims of partnerships between democracies is seriously undermined if the government is going to be so repressive on freedom of speech and in cracking down on its critics,” she noted.

As India heads for critical elections, Dougnac is in France, watching the coverage from thousands of miles away. “I covered elections in India for 20 years. Now for the first time, I will not be there to cover it. I miss India,” she said. 

While her appeal works its way through the Indian courts, the French journalist confesses she’s still in a state of shock. “Really, it’s too emotional for me,” she confessed. “I led a life filled with adventures and interactions across the subcontinent, and had the opportunity to witness over two decades of India’s history. Now I’m in France, I feel like I’m in exile in my own country.”

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EU’s deposit refund scheme a ‘false solution’ for plastic pollution

The European Union in early March announced its goal of establishing deposit refund schemes for plastic bottles and aluminium cans across the bloc by 2029. While EU authorities boast of high recycling rates in member states that have already adopted the practice, environmental groups denounce it as a “false solution” that doesn’t “tackle the real problem”.

The EU aims to become a star performer in the fight against plastic pollution. The bloc’s 27 countries earlier this month announced measures to address packaging waste that aim to achieve 100 percent recycling rates by 2035 and a 15 percent reduction in waste volume by 2040. According to Eurostat, the average European citizen generated 188.7 kilograms of packaging waste in 2021, an increase of 32 kilograms over a decade. Only 64 percent of that amount is recycled today.

Among the various types of packaging filling trash bins in Europe, two make up the majority: plastic bottles and aluminium cans. In France alone, an estimated 340,000 tonnes of plastic bottles were produced for sale in 2022 and only 50 percent were recycled, according to France’s national agency for ecological transition.

To address this problem, the EU proposes to implement a bloc-wide deposit refund system by 2029. Plastic bottles and aluminium cans would be sold for a few cents more, around five to 10 percent of the product’s price, but the consumer could recoup the added cost by bringing the container to a collection point after use. The process is already well-established in 15 European countries including Germany, the Netherlands and the Scandinavian states.

The EU reports record recycling rates in each country where a deposit system already exists. In Germany, all supermarkets have had machines dedicated to “Pfand” (deposits) for returned plastic and glass bottles and aluminium cans since 2003. While consumers are not obligated to use them, the practice has become part of everyday life. “Pfandsammler” (deposit hunters) clear the streets of used containers to help make ends meet. Up to 98.5 percent of bottles and cans are recycled via the deposit system in Germany, according to the Centre for European Consumption.

A similar situation exists in the Nordic countries. In Sweden, aluminium cans have been returnable since 1984; plastic bottles since 1994. The country recycles more than two billion of these containers a year, according to the government. In Norway, the system is a little different: Beverage packaging is subject to an environmental tax, but its amount decreases as the waste collection rate increases. This measure encouraged producers and distributors to introduce a deposit system in 1999. The country’s recycling rate for glass and plastic bottles borders is close to 90 percent.


This graphic shows which European countries have already implemented deposit programmes for recycled materials. Dark blue = already implemented, blue = planned implementation, light blue = without a widespread programme, white = information unavailable. Red = glass, yellow = plastic, green = aluminium. © ENTR

A dangerous ‘rebound effect’

Deposit refund systems are not, however, “miracle solutions”, says Manon Richert, communications manager for the NGO Zero Waste France. “This system can certainly help improve recycling figures, but it doesn’t target the goal we need to have: drastically reducing our production of plastic.”

“By itself, it’s just another way to sort packaging … it won’t change anything that happens to plastic bottles,” says Richert. Once deposited, a bottle will have the same fate as one placed in a traditional recycling bin. It will be collected and sent to a waste treatment plant. Bottles made of PET (polyethylene terephthalate, a type of plastic) will be used to make new ones; other bottles will be transformed into flakes and resold to make polyester, especially in Asia. “These processes require a lot of water and energy and generate microplastics,” Richert says.

Read moreTackling plastic pollution: ‘We can’t recycle our way out of this’

According to the activist, a bloc-wide deposit system could above all produce a “rebound effect” that would encourage consumers to continue buying plastic bottles – the opposite of the EU’s goal. “For years, we have been fed a discourse that presents waste sorting and recycling as an easy green gesture, and we have spread the idea that buying plastic isn’t so bad if we recycle it. And now, we’re going to add a financial incentive,” she says. “This could have the perverse effect of boosting consumption of plastic bottles.”

This effect has already been seen in Germany. A law passed in 2003 aimed to reduce single-use containers to 20 percent of the market, but the opposite has happened: single-use plastic bottles now account for 71 percent of the market compared with 40 percent a decade ago, according to a 2021 University of Halle-Wittenberg study. “It seems that the introduction of a single-use deposit system promotes a narrow mode of thinking and a focus on recycling, which hinders the revitalisation of multi-use BC (beverage container) systems,” the authors found.

“Behind the recycling deposit, it’s more a battle of financial interests than an environmental issue that’s at stake,” says Richert. In recent years, politicians have done more to force manufacturers to use a growing proportion of recycled plastic in production. The demand for recycled plastic has thus grown, and the material has become more expensive.

Collecting and recycling more bottles would increase the quantity of recycled plastic available, therefore lowering its price – “not exactly what encourages manufacturers to reduce production,” says Richert. “In the end, this measure risks maintaining the plastic production cycle, when we need to break it.”

In France, where debate on a deposit system is lively, the collection and sorting of rubbish is currently managed by local and regional authorities, who sell the trash to recyclers. In moving to a deposit system, the management of used plastics would revert to manufacturers, who would recover a financial windfall.

“The manufacturers are not going to get rich” under such a system, retorts Hélène Courades, director general of beverage industry group Boissons rafraîchissantes de France, which includes Coca-Cola and Pepsi, told Le Figaro. “The resale of this material would make it possible to finance the system.”

Recycling vs reuse

Zero Waste France, like other environmental organisations, is actively campaigning for a different system: a deposit for reuse, mostly for glass. “This existed in France until the 1980s,” says Richert. “The idea is to collect the containers to wash them and reuse them as-is, in line with the principle of a circular economy.”

“If this were organised on a local scale with, for example, optimisation and pooling of transport, the environmental and social impact would be very beneficial,” she says. But while such local and voluntary initiatives have been increasing in recent years, the system has not yet been adopted by the political discourse. “It requires a real paradigm shift and a true effort on the part of the government,” says Richert. “But it’s this kind of measure that can really get us away from disposable packaging and our addiction to plastic.”

This article is a translation of the original in French.


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Racist attacks on pop star Aya Nakamura test France’s ability to shine at Paris Olympics

Rumours that French pop star Aya Nakamara may sing at the opening ceremony of the Paris Olympics have triggered a flurry of attacks from the French far right, questioning the host country’s ability to appreciate the globally acclaimed talent emerging from its neglected suburbs with large immigrant populations.

With the Paris Olympics still months away, the host country has already won gold in a category it truly owns: divisive racial controversy with “made in France” flair.  

That’s how public broadcaster France Inter summed up a row over unconfirmed rumours that Aya Nakamura would perform an Édith Piaf song during the Games’ opening ceremony in front of a crowd of 300,000 gathered along the River Seine

Nakamura, 28, has become a global superstar for hits like “Djadja”, which has close to a billion streams on YouTube alone. On the international stage, she is the most popular French female singer since Piaf sang “La vie en rose”, a rare case of a French artist whose songs reach well beyond the Francophone world.  

She is also the proud face of the neglected banlieues (suburbs) of Paris, which have produced many of France’s best-known icons of music and sport – and which will soon host the Olympic Village. 


On paper, tapping her for the curtain-raiser of “the biggest show on earth” is a no-brainer. 

But the mere suggestion triggered a vitriolic response from members of France’s ascendant far right, for whom Nakamura is unfit to represent France. Their sometimes racist arguments have in turn prompted outrage and bafflement, leading government ministers to wade into a debate that has had precious little to do with music. 

“If this were about music, we wouldn’t even have a debate – Nakamura is France’s biggest pop star, full stop,” said Olivier Cachin, a prominent music journalist who was among the first to speak out on social media in defence of the singer.  

“But it’s not about music. It’s about the colour of her skin,” he added. “It’s racism, pure and simple.”  

‘You can be racist but not deaf’ 

The controversy follows media reports that Nakamura discussed performing a song by Piaf during a meeting with President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée Palace last month – though neither party has confirmed the rumour.  

On Saturday, a small extremist group known as the “Natives” hung a banner on the banks of the Seine that read: “No way, Aya. This is Paris, not the Bamako market” – a reference to Nakamura’s birth in Mali‘s capital. 

The next day, the singer’s name was booed at a campaign rally for the far-right Reconquête party of Eric Zemmour, the former pundit and presidential candidate who has been convicted of inciting racial hatred. In a bizarre rant, Zemmour claimed “future babies (…) don’t vote for rap, nor for lambada, nor for Aya Nakamura: they vote for Mozart!” 

Right-wing pundits posing as music critics appeared on news programmes and chat shows to mock the singer’s unorthodox spelling and slang-infused lyrics, stripped of her distinctive rhythm and vibe, while the Senate’s conservative head Gérard Larcher took offence at her use of the sexually explicit slang term “catchana” (“doggy style”) – in the land of Serge Gainsbourg, of all places. 


Nakamura has responded to the vitriol, writing on social media: “You can be racist but not deaf… That’s what hurts you! I’m becoming a number 1 state subject in debates… but what do I really owe you? Nada.” 

The singer was backed by the Olympics’ organising committee, which said it was “shocked by the racist attacks” levelled at “the most listened-to French artist in the world”.        

Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra also expressed her support on social media, telling Nakamura she had the people’s backing, while Culture Minister Rachida Dati raised the matter in the French National Assembly, warning that “attacking someone purely on racist grounds (…) is unacceptable; it’s an offence”. 

On Friday, Paris prosecutors said they were investigating allegations of racist attacks against the pop star following a complaint filed by the anti-racism advocacy group Licra.

For Whites only 

For Karim Hammou and Marie Sonnette-Manouguian, co-authors of a book charting 40 years of hip-hop music in France, Nakamura’s elevation to a “state subject” is part of a concerted strategy of exploiting cultural events to serve the far right’s reactionary, identity politics. 

“The pattern is always the same: far-right leaders voice outrage on social media, until the controversy is picked up by a larger audience in the media and the mainstream right,” they said in written remarks to FRANCE 24. 

Rappers and R&B singers are routinely used as scapegoats in debates that go well beyond them,” they added. “The real question being raised here is that of the participation of people of immigrant background (…) in French culture and in enriching its language and modes of expression.” 

If Nakamura were White, there would be no such debate, added Bettina Ghio, who has written several books on the language of French rap, the country’s most popular musical genre – but one that has long been frowned upon by politicians and the musical establishment.  

“The far right cannot bear the idea that non-white people of immigrant descent can represent France on the international stage – let alone sing from the repertoire of White artists,” she explained. 

Ghio cited the case of Youssoupha, a French rapper of Congolese descent, who suffered similar attacks when his song “Ecris mon nom en bleu” (“Write my name in blue”) was chosen as the unofficial anthem of the French national team at the men’s Euro 2021 football tournament. 

“The Nakamura controversy should not be isolated from past incidents in which the far right has taken aim at artists and athletes based on the colour of their skin,” she said, pointing to the frequent slurs levelled at the racially diverse French squads that won the football World Cups in 1998 and 2018.  

Lilian Thuram, the Caribbean-born former international who was part of the Black, Blanc, Beur (Black, White, Arab) squad of 1998, spoke in defence of Nakamura in an interview with France Info radio on Tuesday. 

“When people say she’s not fit to represent France, I know exactly what criteria they have in mind because the same arguments were used against me,” said the retired player, an outspoken campaigner against racism in France. He said the question of whether Nakamura should perform at the Olympics was being presented the wrong way. 

“If you ask people whether the most popular French artist in the world should perform at the Olympics, a majority would say ‘yes’,” he added. “Like it or not, she’s the best. And that’s why she should represent France.” 

A cosmopolitan mix 

Thuram noted that Nakamura was often mistakenly labelled a rapper, a habit he attributed to racial and class-based prejudice. 

“Why do people think she’s a rapper? Because she’s Black,” he said. “It’s as if we were discussing some random artist from the suburbs and not France’s biggest star. It’s insulting.” 

Nakamura’s music mixes R&B with the highly danceable rhythms of Afrobeat and Carribean Zouk. But right-wing criticism of her work sometimes echoes the prejudice aimed at France’s thriving rap scene, a driver of vociferous social criticism for the past three decades. 


“The far right cannot stand the criticism of France’s colonial history voiced by rappers,” said Ghio. “Zemmour has made hateful comments on television about rap, describing it as a subculture for illiterates … that wrecks the French language.” 

Zemmour’s deputy Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, the niece of rival far-right leader Marine Le Pen, made similar comments on Tuesday, stating on BFMTV that, “Aya Nakamura does not sing in French. She does not represent French culture and elegance.” 

Such claims are “preposterous”, said Cachin, for whom the pop star “simply speaks today’s French, rich in slang and expressions, and does so very well.” He added: “Other more mainstream artists do this as well, without attracting the same kind of scrutiny.” 

Nakamura, whose real last name is Danioko, sings in French, but her lyrics borrow heavily from argot, the French slang, as well as English, Arabic and Bambara, the Malian language spoken by her parents. Her cosmopolitan mix is inspired by her upbringing in a family of griots, Malian poets steeped in music. 

The term “Djadja”, from her breakthrough hit, refers to a liar who boasts about sleeping with her. It has become a rallying cry for female campaigners against sexism and sexist violence. “Pookie”, the title of another hugely popular song, comes from the French slang term poucave, meaning a snitch. 


“Her songs bring vitality to the French language, because there’s a lot of research into sounds and rhythms, and adopting new terms that are popular with youths, particularly in the suburbs,” said Ghio. She drew a parallel with prominent rappers PNL, who experiment with accents, placing them elsewhere in words to generate new sounds. 

“To ignore their work is to consider French as a dead language that hasn’t changed one bit over the past 40 years,” Ghio said, adding that she looked forward to hearing Nakamura experiment with Piaf’s repertoire. 

Piaf in the banlieue 

The scion of poverty-stricken street performers, Piaf was also once derided for her unorthodox style and frequent use of slang terms that postwar elites frowned upon. 

“Popular music has always been attacked by bourgeois commentators and self-styled guardians of proper French language,” said Hammou and Sonnette-Manouguian. “In her day, Piaf was frequently criticised for her performances, her physique and her morals,” they added, denouncing attempts to create a “false opposition” between the legendary 20th century singer and Nakamura. 

Piaf has long been revered in the urban music scene of the Paris suburbs, sung by rapper JoeyStarr and remixed in Matthieu Kassovitz’s seminal film “La Haine”. Associating her with Nakamura would be a chance to link the past and present of French popular music, said Ghio, “from the working-class, bohemian Paris of Piaf to today’s post-colonial banlieues with their African diaspora”. 

Echoing that theme, the left-leaning daily Libération spoke of “building bridges between generations” and a chance to demonstrate “France’s gratitude towards artists that contribute to its global clout, be they from Montmartre or Aulnay-sous-Bois (a poorer suburb north of Paris)”. 


Aya Nakamura at Paris Fashion Week on February 29, 2024. © Miguel Médina, AFP

Nakamura’s position as a target of racist, sexist and class-based attacks has made her the unwitting champion of causes she never claimed to carry. 

The pop star, whose playful songs touch on relationships, flirting and female friendships, has consistently steered clear of politics. She has previously declined to describe herself as feminist, suggesting such a label would sound “fake”.  

But she has also proved her mettle in facing down a torrent of abuse throughout her still-burgeoning career. 

“When you’re a non-White woman in a patriarchal society shaped by its colonial past, you need to find the words to defend yourself,” said Binetou Sylla, producer and owner of Syllart Records, pointing at Nakamura’s social media post this week. 

“It’s possibly the first time she uses the word ‘racist’ in a tweet,” Sylla observed. “But she had no choice.”  

The music producer stressed Nakamura’s bold personality, adding: “She’s unapologetic, with a loudmouth, provocative side that is also very French – and which further winds up her racist critics.” The racist campaign against Nakamura has now made it imperative that she performs at the opening ceremony, Sylla said.  

“If Aya steps aside, if she doesn’t open the Games, it will be France’s loss. That much is certain,” Libération argued, describing Nakamura as a rare “element of French soft power in a pop culture dominated by English and Spanish.” 

A curtain-raiser without Nakamura would also mean handing a victory to the far right, added Cachin. 

“Of course she has to perform now,” he said. “Whether she sings from her own repertoire or from Piaf’s or (Charles) Aznavour’s or all of them at once, it doesn’t really matter. Either way, she’ll be in her right.” 



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