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Rugby loss: ‘French are not bad losers, we just like skirting rules’

The Connexion reviews whether French are sore losers by nature following France’s defeat in the quarter-final of the Rugby World Cup or if the reaction is more emotional and part of the game itself

Reigning champions South Africa narrowly defeated France Pic: Obatala-photography | Shutterstock

French people and rugby players have expressed unhappiness over France’s loss in the quarter final of the Rugby World Cup against South Africa (28-29).

One of the main points of complaint centred on referee Ben O'Keeffe who was responsible for several decisions deemed controversial throughout the 80-minute game.

France’s captain Antoine Dupont said he was “not convinced the refereeing was up to the task” and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet tweeted that “rugby is - usually - a sport that is played by 15 players against 15 players”, alluding that France also had to contend with some of Mr O'Keeffe’s decisions.

Several French people retweeted videos of moments during the game they deemed should have been sanctioned, mainly the missed transformation kick by Thomas Ramos after Cheslin Kolbe had deflected the ball with his arms following a run the French consider to have started several seconds earlier than expected.

Another includes a tackle on Dupont that many viewers have considered to be too high or dangerous and worth whistling.

This reaction has been observed many times from the French in sports and game history, in football, tennis, rugby and even the Eurovision or Monopoly.

The Connexion asked whether it is part of French people’s nature to be ‘mauvais perdants’ (bad losers) or a lack of self-control of emotions and frustration.

One of sports’ immemorial debates 

“The final result is so close that the refereeing aspect inevitably becomes important in the collective analysis,” Vincent Duluc, a French journalist at French sports newspaper L’Equipe, told The Connexion.

Mr Duluc wrote an op-ed in today’s edition headlined: ‘La prochaine fois’ (next time), inviting players and supporters to prepare for the next World Cup rather than blaming the referee for selected instances.

“Les Bleus were not up to the challenge, both because the attackers have performed badly and because the most-heralded French rugby team of its history went less far than other shakier or more unpopular teams,” he wrote.

L’Equipe queried the referee’s decisions in an explainer article and published a separate article of an interview with Alexandre Ruiz, a former referee, who deemed it “coherent”.

“Of course, we tend to replay Mr Ramos’ action, coaching choices, attackers having missed tries and refereeing,” Mr Duluc said to The Connexion.

“That is part of sports,” he added, giving many other counter examples from various nations which complained about sporting decisions as well as controversial decisions in France’s favour that were underreported. 

Countless similar examples

While Mr Duluc does not think the reaction is telling of French people’s nature, other examples in sports suggest otherwise.

French tennis player Kristina Mladenovic blamed one defeat on God, pole vaulter Renaud Lavillenie on the public, judo competitors on referees and handball players on the parquet floor for instance. These were all during the Olympic Games in Brazil in 2016.

“There will always be a reason for the defeat,” said Michael Tapiro, founder of the Sports Management School and an expert on sports business.

And it does not seem to be limited to sports as Stéphane Bern, one of the French anchors of the Eurovision song contest, said. He stated that France is always seen by foreign competitors as ‘arrogant and sore losers.’

A 2016-survey run by Hasbro, an American conglomerate which specialised - among other things - in board-games, found out that the French were the most prone to being sore losers.

While the survey found that 64% complain or get mad, 22% sulk while 7% tend to overturn the board but only 6% of adults admitted being “sore losers”.

“I do not think we are sore losers. We just complain about the rules,” said Mr Tapiro.

Cultural difference in understanding rules

He believes that tThe heart of the problem lies in the interpretation and understanding of the rules.

French people’s reaction over defeat was heightened because of a conflict between France and the UK in a sport whose rules were drafted almost entirely by Commonwealth countries, he added.

“French people conceptualise rules in how they will be able to bypass it. English people are more respectful of the rules, all the more when these are theirs,” said Mr Tapiro.

France tends to produce rules and laws that are in essence universal and open to interpretation, consideration and debate while the UK conceptualises rules and laws in isolation or enclosed environments, he said.

“British people are more pragmatic. We are more emotional and impulsive,” he added.

The reaction from French people on social media may also be influenced by the greater difficulty of interpreting rugby rules, said Mr Duluc.

It is these very rules that were the debate at the heart of the comment section of Mr Pesquet’s tweet who went on arguing with someone who had called him a “sore loser”.

Bad omen

It was the second time France played against South Africa in the World Cup since 1995 and it is the second time French people have found some decisions controversial.

In 1995 France lost in the semi-final against a team whose epic sports adventure carried deeper racial and political meanings and was the centre stage of the movie Invictus.

It took 28 years for Philippe Saint-André, former France’s national rugby coach and a player during the 1995 semi-final, to talk about what he considers a scandal in refereeing, he said to RMC radio talk-shows hours before the game.

Mr Saint-André, on the verge of crying with a faltering voice, explained various pre-game and on-field refereeing decisions he considered wrong.

“If the referee makes a mistake tonight, I hope it will be in the right direction of history,” he said, an allusion to a decision that would help France.

“If we comb through all of the decisions during the game of course Kolbe starts his run three metres ahead of the whistle,” said Mr Tapiro.

I understand Mr Dupont’s frustration,” he added.

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