by Judith Prescott
Article published on the 2009-02-18 Latest update 2009-02-19 10:27 TU
It's not every country that can boast a national museum dedicated to the greatest moments in its sporting history. But then not every country, unlike France, can claim to have played a pivotal role in the development of the modern international sporting calendar.
It was in 1896 that Baron Pierre de Coubertin recreated the Olympic Games, marking a turning point in the history of competitive sports.
It took two French men, Jules Rimet and Henry Delaunay to realise the dream of an international football competition with the first ever World Cup in Uruguay in 1930. In fact, it was a Frenchman, Lucien Laurent, who scored the first-ever goal in that world cup competition.
The newly relocated National Sport Museum now graces the banks of the Seine in Paris's 13th arrondissment and is not simply a showcase for French sporting achievements. Claude Bolli, director of the museum, says he wanted to explore the role sport has played in shaping France's cultural heritage.
"We wanted to use sport as a tool to understanding today's society." he explains.
But the introductory part of the museum's permanent exhibition does pay homage to France's sporting greats both past and present. There are the shorts and the gloves worn by legendary boxer Marcel Cerdan in his last fight on the 16th June 1949. That was that night that he lost his world championship title to Jack La Motta.
There is tennis memorabilia from the 1920s when René Lacoste, Jean Borotra, Jacques Brugnon and Henri Cochet were the undisputed rulers of the game earning them the nickname of the Musketeers.
More contemporary sporting heroes are also present. There is the kimono worn by David Douillet when he won his first heavyweight Judoka gold medal at the Olympic Games in Atlanta in 1996. And there is, of course, a section dedicated to Zinedine Zidane, the man many consider to be the greatest footballer of his generation.
Bolli believes that Zidane is a hugely important figure in French sporting history.
"Zidane is a very interesting sport legend in France," he says. "He was born in Marseille but his parents come from Algeria. He is an example of French society today. He reflects society's multiculturalism. He is French, but he has a history in Algeria. I think this is one of the good things about sport. It is open to people from different backgrounds, different cultures."
A whole section of the exhibition is devoted to showing how sport moved from being a leisure activity to the huge industry of today. Bolli explains that it was the creation of international rules that changed the way sports were played.
"The origin of sports as far as rules are concerned came from England from the public schools like Eton and Harrow," he says."The big change came in the 1930 when regulations were written not just for local villages, but on an international level."
Before they leave the exhibition, a final section invites visitors to reflect on the role sport plays in today's society.
From the objects on display it is obvious that the worlds of fashion and sport have become more intertwined. Baseball caps and basketball shoes are essential items for today's youth. And it's young people, says Bolli, who are choosing the direction sports are taking with the emphasis on 'urban' sports like rollerblading and other 'gliding' sports like snowboarding or surfing.
"One of the big changes taking place is the influence of the West Coast of America," he says. "If you think of snowboarding or surfing, in terms of its culture it's coming from there."
If these are the sports of the future, says Bolli, then it is unlikely that France will be able to compete at the same level. He fully admits that here, as elsewhere, the US rules the world.
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