The Land Of The Oval Ball

They call south-west France 'l'Ovalie', the Land of the Oval Ball, such is the commitment there to rugby union: and the game has arguably been of greater political significance in France than anywhere else. Looking back to the early twentieth century this programme explores the social and cultural roots of a surprising French passion. Rugby in Britain has hardly been a game for intellectuals and artists; in France it has been, and still is. Artists like the douanier Rousseau painted it, writers like Alain Fournier and Jean Giraudoux enthused about it. Even today a literary and political heavyweight like Jean Lacouture mixes 'serious' writing with a rugby column. Their fascination is with a game that quickly became the sporting expression of village culture in the deep south-west. And in the 1920s this was a game that became so violent that in 1931 the British rugby authorities broke off all contact with France. Rugby union also became the 'official' sport of the Vichy regime, who went to the extraordinary lengths of actually banning the rival game of rugby league. Rugby has been a mirror in which the French have looked to find their 'true' nature.

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The Unexpected History20031013