VIDEO: French president Macron pulls on boots for charity football game

French President Emmanuel Macron, who has his eye firmly on the goal of elections next year, donned his football boots and marshalled the midfield at a charity match on Thursday.

President Macron plays the ball during a football match as part of the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the 'Varietes club de France'.
President Macron plays the ball during a football match as part of the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the 'Varietes club de France'. Photo: Ludovic MARIN / AFP.

After a kiss from his wife Brigitte, the 43-year-old was all smiles as he took to the pitch in Poissy outside Paris alongside former international defender Marcel Desailly and ex-Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.

Playing central midfield, Macron drew cheers from the crowd with his first touch – and was given plenty of space to turn from overawed opponents who retreated deferentially as he advanced with the ball.

The fan of Marseille was also allowed to take a penalty, scoring an equaliser with a less-than-ferocious shot that the political centrist sent straight down the middle.

Macron, who played football at university and is a keen tennis player, had spent the day visiting construction sites for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

“The aim is not simply to get medals, it will be to put sport at the heart of the nation,” he told reporters, announcing €200 million for new sports facilities.

His political party and aides are gearing up for presidential polls next April when the head of state is expected to seek a second term.

A new survey published on Thursday showed him coming top in the first round with 24-28 percent of votes, and then winning the second round run-off.

Analysts say the election remains highly unpredictable, however, with a surge by far-right media pundit Eric Zemmour in recent weeks demonstrating how quickly voter sentiment can shift.

Macron's teammates included former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger.

Macron’s teammates included former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger. Photo: Ian LANGSDON / POOL / AFP.

The charity game featured a side of former players and public personalities, including former France international and Arsenal star Robert Pires, while their opponents were a team of medics who have been on the frontline of efforts to battle Covid-19.

Footage of the match, and Macron’s successful penalty, were shown on rolling news channels.

The money raised from the sale of around 3,000 tickets was destined for a hospital charity which is headed by Brigitte Macron.

Macron is not the only world leader to take to the pitch in a bid to impress fans with his sporting prowess. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has enjoyed kick-arounds on the football pitch, while Russian President Vladimir Putin regularly turns out in an amateur ice hockey league.

The vice-president of the South American state of Suriname, Ronnie Brunswijk, 60, set his sights higher – last month, he had himself selected in attack during a competitive professional game for the club he owns. The club, Inter Moengotapoe, suffered a 6-0 drubbing and has since been thrown out of the CONCACAF League.

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Spain thrown out of 2023 Rugby World Cup

Spain have been thrown out of the 2023 Rugby World Cup for fielding an ineligible South African-born player during the qualifying stages and will be replaced by Romania, World Rugby announced on Thursday.

Spain thrown out of 2023 Rugby World Cup

“Subject to Spain’s right of appeal, the 10-point deduction applied to the Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification table means that Romania will qualify as Europe 2 into Pool B replacing Spain,” read the statement.

Portugal — who Spain beat to seal their place in the global showpiece in France next year — replace Romania in the Final Qualification Tournament taking place in November 2022.

“Spain has a right of appeal within 14 days of the date of the full written decision of the committee,” read the statement.

According to Spanish media in March, the player under investigation was South African-born prop Gavin van den Berg, who has been playing in Spain since 2018.

He played twice against the Netherlands, in 2020 and 2021, in qualifiers, but he may not seemingly have served the three years of residency needed to become eligible under World Rugby rules.

Spain, Romania and Belgium were all sanctioned in 2018 for having fielded ineligible players, opening the way for Russia to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.