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Only on AP: Tournament challenges racism, French social model

Congolese fans enter the soccer pitch after a team with Congolese roots defeated a team of Malian heritage during the final game of the National Neighborhoods Cup in Creteil, France, outside Paris, July 2, 2022. The amateur tournament aims to celebrate the diversity of youth in low-income communities with high immigrant populations, areas long stigmatized by some observers and politicians as a breeding ground for crime, riots, and Islamic extremism. (AP Photo / Christophe Ena)

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Jade Le Deley, Jerome Pugmire and Christophe Ena inspired anti-racism advocates and young people in neglected quarters of France by shining a global spotlight on the National Neighborhoods Cup, an unusual soccer tournament aimed at celebrating the diversity of immigrants and casting a positive light on working-class areas with large immigrant populations that some politicians and commentators scapegoat as breeding grounds for crime, riots and Islamic extremism.

AP Paris intern Le Deley uncovered the story and recognized the potential broader impact, and sports writer Pugmire discovered that some major names in the soccer world are quietly helping the tournament. The pair interviewed some of those top players and spent time gaining the trust of tournament organizers, players and fans.

Joined by photographer Christophe Ena, AP was the only international media to cover the tournament, and the only media to put it into the perspective of France’s ideal of a colorblind republic that doesn’t identify people by race or ethnic background. That ideal was intended to provide equal opportunity by treating everyone as simply French; in practice, it has created difficulties for people of color and immigrants recognizing their roots.

The story was widely used in U.K. and U.S. media and has prompted discussion online among French observers; the piece was still being tweeted several days later. And tournament participants expressed appreciation to AP for calling attention to their initiative

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