Make no mistake, France loves the World Cup. The country enjoyed its finest sporting hour when it hosted and won the FIFA World Cup™ in 1998, the second time the nation had welcomed the world finals, the first having come 60 years earlier. In 2019, it will provide the setting for yet another landmark event: the FIFA Women’s World Cup™.
Invented by the British in the second half of the 19th century, football did not take long to cross the English Channel and take root in France. The records state that the sport – albeit a mix of football and rugby – was first played in the country in 1867, with the first championship being held in 1891.
The first French football club to come into existence was Le Havre in 1884, though it was the birth of another institution two decades later that provided definitive proof that the country had fully embraced the game. In 1904, the Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) was founded in Paris by the representatives of seven European associations. The French national team came into being later that same year.
Women’s football took just a few years to find its feet in France, with the inaugural national championship taking place in 1918, two years before the very first international women’s match between a French XI and The Dick Kerr International Ladies AFC, a club from the English city of Preston. The English side won 2-0, though there was much worse news to follow for France’s female footballers. In the face of growing criticism and opposition to women playing the game, the national championship was suspended in 1933. The argument was that football was 'harmful' to women’s health and would encourage them to 'become like men' and seek their emancipation.
Officially banned in France in 1941, a fate that befell it in many other countries, women’s football endured a precarious existence over the next three decades, as clubs came and went and only local competitions took place. The situation changed for the better in 1971, when, in line with other European associations, the French Football Association (FFF) finally reinstated the sport.
In recent years, the men's national team have established themselves at the pinnacle of world football, winning each of the six major international competitions on at least one occasion: the FIFA World Cup, the FIFA Confederations Cup, the FIFA U-17 World Cup, the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the Men’s Olympic Football Tournament and the UEFA EURO finals. France’s women's national team have followed suit, breaking into the global elite. Though the seniors have yet to win a major title, over the years Les Bleues have helped generate a big passion for the game in a country that is home to one of the most competitive women’s leagues in the world.
France intends to show all that passion when it welcomes the women’s world finals in 2019.
Covering an area of 672,000 square kilometres, including the overseas departments and territories, France is the world’s 41st-largest country, while its 67.5 million inhabitants make it the 20th-most populous nation on the planet. Mainland France is flanked by the North Sea, the English Channel, the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. It borders Belgium and Luxembourg to the north-east, Germany and Switzerland to the east, Italy and Monaco to the south-east and Spain and Andorra to the south-west.
Though it has witnessed many political changes and upheavals during the course of its long and rich history, France is now a unitary constitutional republic with a semi-presidential form of government combining aspects of both a parliamentary and presidential system.
In terms of GDP, France is the world’s fifth largest economy and the second largest in the eurozone, behind neighbouring Germany and ahead of the UK. The French economy is essentially service-based, though agriculture and industry have always made significant contributions to it. In addition, its food processing, aerospace, automobile, luxury products, tourism and nuclear industries are particularly advanced.
Climate and tourism
Mainland France is located at the western edge of Europe, at the halfway point between the North Pole and the Equator. Surrounded by sea to the north, west and south-east, it also boasts several mountain ranges, such as the Pyrenees, the Alps, the Massif Central, the Vosges and the Jura. France has a temperate climate, with winters that are relatively mild and summers that are warm but not overly hot. The country can be divided into four broad climatic zones: continental in the east, oceanic in the centre and south-west, Mediterranean in the south-east, and highland in mountainous areas.
France and tourism go hand in hand. According to the World Tourism Organisation, it has been the world’s leading tourist destination in terms of foreign visitors since the 1990s. The country’s appeal lies not just in the beauty and diversity of its countryside, but also in its outstanding historical, cultural and artistic heritage. With its many landmarks and historical buildings, Paris is the jewel in the national crown, though France boasts many other gems that are well worth visiting, from north to south and east to west.