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French Sport: Caught between Universalism and Exceptionalism

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 August 2011

Paul Dietschy*
Université de Franche-Comté, 31, chemin de l'Epitaphe 25 000 Besançon, France. E-mail:


This article argues that the question of national perspectives is a fundamental problem in the writing of European sports history. It does so by demonstrating that France has an equal pedigree, in terms of diffusion and exceptionalism, as Britain, and pleads for a less skewed approach to the history of the subject in general. The article shows, first, that France contributed significantly to the internationalization of sport in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with French networks facilitating the spread of sports across the globe. It considers the impact of French universalism on the institutional structures of world sport and assesses the importance of sport to governmental diplomacy. Second, it proposes that France occupies a special place in the history of European sport, halfway between that of the British on the one hand and other continental sporting cultures on the other. It discusses the role of central and regional administrations in the creation of a sports space that is distinctly marked by a lack of football hegemony. French sport, the article concludes, is characterized by a peculiar mix of anglomanie, invented traditions, internationalism, state interventionism and eclecticism.

Focus: Sports
Copyright © Academia Europaea 2011

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