GUWAHATI: Colin Kaepernick, currently a National Football League (NFL) free agent, started taking a knee during the US national anthem in September 2016. Kaepernick, once a star quarterback with the San Francisco 49ers, decided it was the best way to protest a string of police brutalities against unarmed black men in the USA. The 29-year-old, however, wasn’t the first to draw attention this way. Christian Karembeu, the New Caledonia-born former Real Madrid player who went on to win the World Cup with France, refused to sing ‘La Marseillaise’ — the French anthem — during international matches. He later said why he took that step. “My family, like many Kanak families, underwent horrible experiences. I can’t sing the French national anthem because I know the history of my people.”
There is one incident which summarises it. French novelist, Didier Daeninckx, in 1998 came out with a book, Cannibale. It was based on the Paris Colonial Exhibition in 1931, a six-month festival to celebrate the country’s global conquests. People were brought from French colonies across the globe and were asked to entertain tourists who had come for the event (7-9 million had attended it). While researching for the book, Daeninckx came across one photograph, where a man resembling Karembeu was ‘placed behind bars in a human zoo,’ according to These Football Times, a respected football website.
So Daeninckx wrote to Karembeu asking whether he knew him. The reply stumped the author. The man in the picture was his great-grandfather, Willy. A few of the Kanaks placed in those zoos were later exchanged for crocodiles in Weimar Germany. The situation has changed a lot in the last 86 years but France has been reluctant to love Karembeu. The 46-year-old was singled out because of his reluctance to sing the anthem even though a few other French footballers practised the ‘no-singing’ policy. So it’s easy to understand Karembeu’s relationship with many of the French fans.
However, he doesn’t seem to have much of a connection with the Caledonian people too. “He doesn’t come often to New Caledonia,” coach Dominique Wacalie tells SS. “He does
support tournaments for kids but he is not really present in the country. So I don’t really have the chance to see him very often.” While it’s understandable that he doesn’t spend time in the country of his birth — apart from a number of other roles, he is also the strategic advisor at Greek club Olympiacos — it’s strange to hear he hasn’t done much as of now. “Karembeu does a lot of things,” Wacalie says. “He has a lot of business and other stuff. He sent a message to me, sending his best wishes for the U-17 World Cup. But now I need Karembeu to help us develop our football.”
Wacalie does not want to get dragged into any of the other things the former Arsenal scout did or did not do while playing for Les Bleus but the one overriding theme of this part of the conversation is this. The country needs more than his support, it needs his help as they try to become a big team in Oceania and beyond.
Christian Karembeu was a member of the French team that lifted the 1998 World Cup. Was also part of Les Bleus, that won the Euro 2000.
Started out with Nantes in 1990 before making a big move to Real Madrid seven years later. With Real, he won the Champions League twice (1998 and 2000).