From Sporting Transgression to Social Tragedy: Situating Zidane’s World Cup head-butt on France’s postcolonial stage

Samuel Huntington notably predicted that post Cold War conflicts would originate from cultural and religious differences that he referred to as the ‘clash of civilisations’. The capacity for civilisations to construct a sense of identity through social myths: explanatory ideas that reflect sociocultural differences and continue to permeate public consciousness in the domain of popular culture and sport, will be explored in this paper by examining how Zinédine Zidane’s infamous 2006 World Cup misdemeanour was mediated as a social tragedy in France. A Neoaristotelian perspective is employed to demonstrate how the footballer’s on-field misconduct was constructed as mythos (a tragic plot) by framing the historical episode within racial, ethnic and religious discourses particular to France’s political geography. Mediated through poignant symbols that equated Zidane’s revered emblem with French supremacy and postcolonial unity, this ‘social tragedy’ reveals how the political logic of the sacred and profane transformed an historical episode into a tragic event that hindered public contestation of the French footballer’s scandalous transgression. Finally, it is argued that the way in which mythos is constructed and disseminated for public consumption results in real social consequences as models through which audiences recognise themselves and the society to which they belong.