ID 34
Title The Land of the Oval Ball
Broadcast 2003-10-13 00:00:00
Network Radio 4
Presenter Mark Whitaker
Producer Mark Whitaker
Precis There are eight major rugby nations in the world ; and seven of them are either part of the UK or former British colonies. The odd-country out is France. Yet the game is as much the national sport for the French as it is for New Zealanders and white South Africans. Reporting from l'Ovalie - which is how many refer to the rugby heartland of south-west France - this programme explores how and why this came about.
Duration 30
Txtime 1899-12-30 20:00:00
Repeat
Rpttime
Description There are eight major rugby nations in the world ; and seven of them are either part of the UK or former British colonies. The odd-country out is France. Yet the game is as much the national sport for the French as it is for New Zealanders and white South Africans. Reporting from l'Ovalie - which is how many refer to the rugby heartland of south-west France - this programme explores how and why this came about.

At a service area on the A61 motorway just outside Toulouse there's a bizarre oval-shaped structure - the national multi-media rugby museum, paid for by the French Ministry of Culture. It's strategically placed at an important gateway to the south-west, where rugby has had quasi-religious status since the early 20th century. And that the museum was the brainchild of Jean Lacouture says much about a French culture of the game that's far removed from its place in British society. Lacouture was de Gaulle's official biographer and a major presence in Parisian intellectual circles; he was also the long-serving rugby correspondent of Le Monde.

France has a rugby literature to rival that on cricket in English, and this programme will explore the deep fascination for the game in French artistic and political circles. Novelists from Alain Fournier to Francoise Sagan have written about it; Maurice Chevalier composed songs about it.

Rugby, though little played outside the south west, has for successive generations and regimes provided an image of 'la France profonde', of quintessential Frenchness - seen as a mixture of grace, brutality and fierce attachment to the soil. The collaborationist Vichy government (whose sports minister was the tennis star Jean Borotra) was so enamoured of rugby union that it formally banned its rival thirteen-man-a-side code; and de Gaulle required his Cabinet to attend French internationals in Paris.

The game retains its hold over popular culture in the south west. The programme will illustrate this by recording at the summer fete in the village of Tyrosse, complete with its Pamplona-style bull-running -- the whole festival is a fund-raiser for the local rugby team.

A symbolic event is a ceremony, organised by the French rugby authorities, at the grave of William Ellis Webb. It should really be in Rugby; but it happens to be in Menton on the Cote d'Azure.

SqDogNumber
Pic1
Caption1 A stained glass window in the church of "Notre Dame du Rugby", depicting the Virgin Mary over a line-out
Pic2
Caption2 "Notre Dame du Rugby" from the outside
Pic3
Caption3 Another stained-glass window depicts the Virgin Mary and a rugby scrum
Pic4
Caption4 A shop window display in the heart of "L'Ovalie" -- the Land of the Oval Ball, in south-west France
Pic5
Caption5 A statue of the Virgin, with the infant Jesus holding a rugby ball up to her