French sports minister lauds Mbappé’s ‘absolutely exemplary’ election plea

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudéa-Castéra on Monday hailed a statement by football superstar Kylian Mbappé urging voters not to back political extremes in the upcoming snap elections as exemplary. The backing came as Spain’s goalkeeper suggested Monday that it was not the French captain’s place to speak up “against extremes and divisive ideas” ahead of general elections. 

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On Sunday, Kylian Mbappé, representing France at the Euro 2024 tournament in Germany, said he was “against extremes and divisive ideas” and urged young people to vote at a “crucial moment” in French history.

The comments from Mbappé, 25, one of the icons of modern France, sparked a stream of controversy, with figures on the right warning him against interfering in politics.

“Kylian spoke in an absolutely exemplary manner yesterday (on Sunday). He wanted to speak to young people at a totally unprecedented and decisive moment for the future” of the country, said Oudéa-Castéra.

France’s men’s football team has long been seen as a beacon for diversity in the country. The French Football Federation has urged against “any form of pressure and political use of the French team”.

“I hope I will still be proud to wear this shirt after July 7,” said Mbappé, referring to the second round of the elections.

The striker defended comments made on Saturday by his teammate Marcus Thuram, saying he “had not gone too far” in calling on the country “to fight every day to stop” the far-right Rassemblement National (National Rally) winning the elections.

“Today we can all see that extremists are very close to winning power and we have the opportunity to choose the future of our country,” Mbappé said.

Read moreThuram takes stand against far right ahead of elections

Yannick Noah, other sports stars call for vote against far right

On Sunday, several dozen French sports personalities including former tennis star Yannick Noah, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, another tennis player and athlete Marie-José Perec also called for a vote against the far right in an op-ed for L’Equipe sports daily.

“We see that our athletes want to make their voices heard,” added Oudéa-Castéra, herself a former professional tennis player, as she attended rehearsals for the Olympics opening ceremony on the River Seine.

“It’s an attitude that is courageous, committed, and that can be applauded, that is deeply respectable.”

Former French football star Thierry Henry, now coach of the French Olympic team, also added his voice, urging voters to “block the extremes”.

“I think there is something that is still important, what can block the extremes is to go and vote. So go and vote,” he told reporters.

“Personally, I am against anything that divides and a little more for anything that can unite,” he added.

Initial polls suggest the far-right National Rally may win the largest number of votes in the election but may struggle to form an overall majority.

‘We should leave politics to others’

Spain’s goalkeeper Unai Simon suggested Monday it was not the French captain’s place to speak up “against extremes and divisive ideas” ahead of the elections.

When asked about Mbappé’s remarks, Spain’s first choice goalkeeper Simon said players gave their opinions too often on topics like politics.

“Kylian is someone who has a lot of influence in the world, in society,” Simon told a press conference.

“In the end it’s a political topic. I think we sometimes have the tendency to give opinions too much on certain topics when I don’t know if we should or not, I don’t know if we should do these things.

“I’m here, a football player, I focus on football, the only thing I should be talking about here with you is sporting topics, and leave politics to other people and organisations.”

Tournament favourites France face Austria later Monday in their Euro 2024 opener.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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