Americans are not the only ones who question soccer’s emergence as the world’s favorite athletic pastime. The sport has also occasionally come under fire from anti-colonialists, who would prefer that their nations opt for the games that were popular before the Europeans came a-knocking with their guns and smallpox. The Tunisian historian Borhane Errais is one such opponent, having characterized the flowering of soccer as a “cultural genocide.” If he had his druthers—not to mention any small shred of political power—Errais would like for his fellow Tunisians to compete like their forefathers did:
In Ethnography of physical exercise in pre-colonial Tunisia, Errais mentions El Koura (a game like football in which two teams try to kick a ball into a goal), El Egfa (a game like hockey using wooden sticks, however the aim is not a goal but one’s coat), and La Rekla (a game in which competitors kick each other, resembling the French game Savate) in regard to the people’s exercise culture in pre-colonial Tunisia during the Ottoman rule.
Try as I might, I couldn’t find any images or video of these traditional Tunisian sports, which perhaps hints at the fact that the country’s public doesn’t want to run around depriving each other of coats simply because an academic considers it patriotic. The best I could come up with was the vintage clip above, showing a savate match from France. Granted, there may be some prejudice at work in the film—the British do love nothing more than to highlight the wussiness of their Gallic neighbors to the south. But if “Pretty Pierre” was, indeed, a respected savate master in his time, I can understand why such a sport hasn’t flourished in modern Tunisia.