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Russia2018. Mons. Lebrun (bishop, ex-referee): “Football teaches us teamwork, to be adversaries without violence”

Ahead of the French-Croatia World Cup 2018 final. The words of Mons. Dominique Lebrun, bishop of Rouen, for thirteen years referee of the French Football Federation. “It was a joy to see the French team, after the difficulties of a few years ago, give the best of itself thanks to the young age of its players.” At a time of transfer market he warned: “Sport is a game. Let’s never forget it.”

“A joy.” Msgr. Dominique Lebrun, bishop of Rouen, does not conceal his enthusiasm. He served as referee of the French Football Federation. SIR contacted him by phone: “It was a joy to see the French national football team, after struggling on the pitch a few years ago, once again give the best of itself, thanks to the young age of its players. However, it would not have been a tragedy nor an injustice if Belgium had won. It was a balanced match.”

What did you like the most?
I liked the first half, with very few yellow cards. I saw that the players on the pitch were well disposed towards the referee. I was referee myself, and thus respect during the match resonates with me. Of course, towards the end there was some nervousness and pressure. The players were less calm and less respectful. But it was well-played until the very last, a high level match.

Reportedly, Kylian Mbappé, the Paris Saint Germain striker, said he would devolve to charity part of the bonus the French team will be receiving for participating in the World Cup 2018. What France emerges from this team?
It is quite evident that the national team players come from migrant families. It’s an established reality. France has been a country made of people who arrived from abroad, from other Countries, other peoples for a long time already. But I think that today this aspect is less relevant compared to 1998, when it was given major emphasis. At the time the French team was described as “black-blanc-beur”, a play on words devised by the French people after winning the 1998 World Cup to describe the mixture of races characterising France’s national football team (literally, blacks, whites and peoples from the Maghreb). Today this heterogeneity is our reality.

It was the World Cup that saw the defeat of great football teams, from Argentina, to Brazil…
Not only of the great ones but also of African football teams. It’s what saddened me the most. In fact, only national teams of four European Countries reached the semi-final, not even South-American national teams made it that far. But it’s part of football: you never know why certain things happen.

On Sunday Pope Francis – who appreciates good football – tried to console the Brazilian players during the Angelus Prayer.
Yes, I heard. I also always look at those who are beaten. In fact I was very sorry for Belgium, a smaller and less populated Country compared to France. It would have been nice if they had won. I also looked forward to a final with England to forge a friendship with this people that is leaving Europe.

In your opinion, what is the message of this World Cup?

Sport is a game, we should never forget it.  Even if this environment entails the presence of professionals and huge amounts of money. But it’s a game that involves people worldwide. Football is a game that requires players to give their entire self when they enter the pitch. It requires selflessness. It may appear paradoxical to speak in these terms at a time of transfer market, with a great deal of money involved, but this selflessness is an integral part of sport. Football also elicits deep feelings of belonging and participation. It touches our heart, our inner self and our innermost drives. Could it then be a wholehearted school of life that teaches us and challenges us to give onto others? How do we relate to others? Are we capable of teamwork and be adversaries without violence, so as to create together, each with his own talents and skills, a beautiful game?


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