Sport in France plays an important role in French society, which is reflected in its popularity among the French people and strong sporting history. Various types of sports are played and followed in France, the most popular of which is association football.
Main article: Football in France
Association football is the most popular sport in France, with 1,973,270 licensed players in the leagues. The sport was imported from England at the end of the 19th century, under the name of association football. In its early days, the sport gained followers mainly in the Paris area and the Northern part of the country - Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Normandy were the first teams that were created outside Paris. In southern France, football's competitor, rugby football, was more favoured at the time. Established in 1919 from competing organizations, the Fédération française de football consists of 18,000 teams.
It is also one of only nine teams to have won the UEFA European Championship (1984 and 2000). France was also the 1984 Olympic Champion and the 1998 World Cup winner.
Ligue 1 is the French professional league for association football clubs. It is the country's primary football competition and serves as the top division of the French football league system. Contested by 20 clubs, it operates on a system of promotion and relegation with Ligue 2. The most successful club in the French first division history is AS Saint-Étienne with 10 championships (last one in 1981), followed by Olympique de Marseille with 9 titles and FC Nantes with 8 titles. as of 2016, the current champions are Paris Saint-Germain.
The Coupe de France is the premier knock-out cup competition in French football. The Coupe de la Ligue is the second major cup competition in France. The Trophée des champions is played each July as a one-off match between the Coupe de France winners and the Ligue 1 champions.
Only one French club, Olympique de Marseille, has won the UEFA Champions League in 1993. Stade de Reims (1956, 1959), AS Saint-Étienne (1976), and AS Monaco (2004) have been runners-up.
SC Bastia (1978), FC Girondins de Bordeaux (1996) and Olympique de Marseille (1999, 2004) have also been runners-up in the UEFA Europa League.
France women's national football team main international achievement has been fourth place at the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Women's national professional competitions are supervised by the Fédération française de football. The first division is the Championnat de France de football féminin. Olympique Lyonnais is the most successful team in French first division history with 12 titles, including an ongoing streak of eight titles (2007 to present). In the UEFA Women's Champions League, OL have won twice (2011 and 2012) and have been runners-up twice (2010 and 2013).
Tennis is the second most popular French sport in terms of the number of licensed players with 1,111,316 licensed tennis players in France (2012).
France holds the tennis Grand Slam tournament Roland Garros. As of February 20, 2017, the current male and female French no. 1 players are Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Caroline Garcia, respectively. Some other French current stars include Richard Gasquet, Gaël Monfils, Gilles Simon, Lucas Pouille, Alizé Cornet, and Kristina Mladenovic. Other stars from the past include Yannick Noah (father of Joakim Noah), Guy Forget, Henri Leconte, Amélie Mauresmo, Mary Pierce and Marion Bartoli.
Main article: Rugby union in France
Rugby union (rugby à 15 or jeu à 15) was first introduced in the early 1870s by British residents. While football is much more popular nationally, rugby union is predominant in the southern half of the country, especially around Toulouse, the French Basque country and Catalonia. Elite French clubs participate in the domestic club competition - the Top 14. Clubs also compete in the European knock-out competitions, the European Rugby Champions Cup and European Rugby Challenge Cup. It is the seventh largest French team sport in the terms of licensed players with 457,018 licensed players (2012). There are 1,737 clubs in France and the number of licensed players has significantly increased over the recent years (up from 260,000 in 2000).
In 2010, the all-French final of the Heineken Cup between Toulouse and Biarritz in the Stade de France received 3.2 million viewers on France 2. In 2011, the final of the Top 14 gathered 4.4 million viewers on France 2 and Canal+ and the World Cup final between New Zealand and France gathered 15.4 million viewers on TF1, the highest audience on French TV since the start of the year.
The national side is one of the tier 1 national teams. It competes annually in the Six Nations Championship, and won it outright 16 times. France has been to every Rugby World Cup since its inception in 1987, and has been a runner-up on three occasions, most recently in 2011. France hosted the 2007 Rugby World Cup.
Main article: Rugby league in France
Rugby league (rugby à treize or jeu à treize) has been played in France since the 1930s, and is most popular, like rugby union, in the south of the country. The sport arguably achieved its height in popularity in the 1950s and 1960s when the French national team made it to World Cup finals and won test series against Australia, Great Britain and New Zealand. A France-based team, the Catalans Dragons, participates in the Super League tournament, which has helped boost the sport's profile and led to growth in player numbers.
Main article: Basketball in France
The France national basketball team has had good results in international competitions over the years, with the senior team winning their first title ever in the recent EuroBasket 2013. The team was runner-up at the 1948 Summer Olympics, the EuroBasket 1949, the 2000 Summer Olympics, and the EuroBasket 2011. Current roster includes NBA players Tony Parker, Joakim Noah, Nicolas Batum, Kevin Seraphin, Boris Diaw, Frank Ntilikina.
As of the 2015–16 season, 22 French citizens have played in the NBA in the USA and Canada. Ten are currently playing, most notably San Antonio Spurspoint guard Parker, with four NBA titles to his credit; Spurs forward Diaw; Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert; and New York Knicks forward-center Noah, also notable for his college career at the University of Florida in which he starred on a team that won two NCAA titles with the same starting lineup. The New York Knicks former GM Phil Jackson selected Frank Ntilikina in the 2016-2017 NBA Draft.
Men's national professional competitions are supervised by the Ligue Nationale de Basketball. There are two divisions: Pro A (first division) and Pro B (second division). ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne is the most successful team in French first division history with 17 titles from 1949 to 2009. Limoges CSP is the only French team to have won the EuroLeague in 1993.
The France women's national basketball team has twice been European champion (2001 and 2009), and also claimed a silver medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
Women's national professional competitions are supervised by the Fédération Française de Basket-Ball with the first division being the Ligue féminine de basket. Clermont Université Club is the most successful team in French first division history with 13 titles from 1968 to 1981. CJM Bourges (1997, 1998, and 2001) and US Valenciennes (2002 and 2004) have won the EuroLeague Women.
Motorsports are very popular in France, especially auto racing and motorcycle racing.
Formula One has a strong connection with and long history in France, having roots in European Grand Prix motor racing, which traces its birth to the 1906 French Grand Prix. Many French circuits have been used since the foundation of the Formula One Championships: Reims-Gueux (1950–1966), Rouen-Les-Essarts (1952–1958), Circuit Charade (1965–1972), Bugatti Circuit (1967), Circuit Paul Ricard (1971–1990), Dijon-Prenois (1974–1984), and Circuit de Nevers Magny-Cours (1991–2008). France is home of Formula One World's Constructors' Champions Matra (1969) and Renault (2005 and 2006), and Formula One World Drivers' Champion Alain Prost (1985, 1986, 1989, and 1993).
France is also home to the most Champions in Formula Two history with Jean-Pierre Beltoise (1968), Johnny Servoz-Gavin (1969), Jean-Pierre Jarier (1973), Patrick Depailler (1974), Jacques Laffite (1975), Jean-Pierre Jabouille (1976), and René Arnoux (1977). French constructors have also been successful with Matra winning the Championships in 1967, 1968, and 1969, Automobiles Martini in 1975 and 1977, and Renault in 1976 and 1977. France produced five champions in the International Formula 3000 championship, the successor to the European F2 series: Jean Alesi (1989), Érik Comas (1990), Olivier Panis (1993), Jean-Christophe Boullion (1994) and Sébastien Bourdais (2002), tying with Italy as the most successful nation in the formula. Romain Grosjean won the GP2 Asia Series in 2008 and 2011 and the main GP2 Series in 2011.
Touring car racing, although less popular in France than Formula One, has a strong following, especially with four time World Touring Car Championship Drivers' Champion Yvan Muller (2008, 2010, 2011 and 2013). In Sports car racing, France is home to the 24 Hours of Le Mans the world's oldest sports car race in endurance racing, held annually since 1923. Also, French auto racing team Hexis Racing is the current FIA GT1 World Team Champion.
Rallying is very popular in France, with two World Rally Championship rallies being held there: Tour de Corse (1973–2008) and Rallye d'Alsace (2010-today).
French drivers and manufacturers have been very successful in the World Rally Championship, especially since 2000, winning respectively 13 and 14 championships. Champions include Didier Auriol (1994), Sébastien Loeb (2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012, an all-time record) and Sébastien Ogier (2013, 2014 and 2015) for the drivers, and Alpine (1973), Peugeot (1985, 1986, 2000, 2001, and 2002), and Citroën (2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012) for the manufacturers.
France holds an annual ice racing championship at the end of each year, called the Andros Trophy.
Other types of auto racing (Stock car racing, Drag racing, etc.) are more favoured.
There are 470,590 licensed handball players in France as of 2012.
The France national handball team is the current double reigning Olympic Champion and European champion. The team also won the World Championships in 1995, 2001, 2009, 2011 and 2015, and the European Championships in 2006, 2010 and 2014. Men's national professional competitions are supervised by the Ligue nationale de handball with the top division being the Championnat de France de handball. Montpellier Agglomération Handball is the most successful team in French first division history with 13 titles from 1995 to 2011. The team is also the only French team to have won the EHF Champions League in 2003.
The France women's national handball team won the 2003 World Women's Handball Championship.
Women's main national professional competition is the Championnat de France de handball féminin. Metz Handball is the most successful team in French first division history with 17 titles from 1989 to 2011. No French team has reached the semi-finals at the EHF Women's Champions League so far.
Ice hockey is a fairly popular sport in France, especially in the Rhône-Alpes region and in the cities of Rouen, Amiens and Tours. The governing body is the FFHG which administeres the national championship, Ligue Magnus (founded in 1907). The national team is currently ranked in the top 20 in the IIHF World Ranking. In recent years numerous French ice hockey players have made the NHL, the premier ice hockey competition on the planet based in the United States and Canada including Stanley Cup winner Cristobal Huet and Dallas Stars forward Antoine Roussel.
Main article: Australian rules football in France
Australian rules football is a growing sport in France with the first clubs forming in the 1990s. There are several clubs around the country forming a ""Super League" and some other clubs playing in a developmental league. There is a national men's Australian Football team that has played international matches and competes in the Australian Football International Cup, which is essentially a World Cup for all countries apart from Australia.
Further information: Tour de France
France holds the annual cycling race Tour de France, which takes place each July and lasts for three weeks. It is one of the three Grand Tours, which are the most prestigious stage races in road cycling. The Tour has been won 36 times by French cyclists in its 110-year history. Cycling is very popular in France, evident from the fact that the race of Tour de France attracts more than 12 million people who travel to witness the race first hand. The Tour de France also attracts a television audience of 3.5 billion people worldwide. In addition the north of France hosts the one-day race Paris–Roubaix, known as one of the cobbled classics famous for the use of cobblestones or setts as challenging terrain, and as one of the five "Monuments" which along with the road racing World Championship are the most important one-day classic cycle races. Other high-profile races which are included as part of the top-level UCI World Tour circuit include the stages races Paris–Nice and the Critérium du Dauphiné (often used as a warm-up race for riders competing in the Tour de France), and the one-day race GP Ouest-France.
Some of the most notable French riders are multiple Grand Tour winners Lucien Petit-Breton, André Leducq, Antonin Magne, Louison Bobet, Jacques Anquetil (along with historic contender Raymond Poulidor, who was a favourite of the crowd), Roger Pingeon, Bernard Thévenet, Bernard Hinault and Laurent Fignon, and multiple Monument winners Maurice Garin, Lucien Lesna, Hippolyte Aucouturier, Octave Lapize, Gustave Garrigou, Henri Pélissier, Charles Crupelandt, Jean Forestier, Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle and Laurent Jalabert. In women's cycling Jeannie Longo is one of the most successful competitors of all time, having won the Tour de France Feminin three times, nine gold medals in road racing and time trialling at the UCI Road World Championships, and the gold in the road race at the 1996 Olympics.
Though it is little known, Gaelic football is developing in France. There are currently 20 clubs across the country with 80% of the players French. 
Professional sailing in France is centered on singlehanded/shorthanded ocean racing with the pinnacle of this branch of the sport being the Vendée Globe singlehanded around the world race which starts every 4 years from the French Atlantic.hi
Pétanque is mostly played in the South of France. Pétanque is not considered as a sport by many northern Frenchmen though the international federation is recognized by the IOC. . Professional players play the very competitive form of Pétanque which is called Pétanque Sport, under precise rules. The competitive form is played by about 480,000 persons licensed with the Federation Française de Pétanque et Jeu Provençal (FFPJP). The FFPJP is the 4th largest sports federation in France.
Orienteering is a reasonably popular sport in France; it is regulated by the Fédération Française de Course d'Orientation (FFCO) .
Cricket is a developing sport in France. Some reports point that cricket was invented in France. However, the sport is relatively unknown due to inadequate media coverage. In fact, the 1900 Olympic games, the only one where cricket was played, featured bitter rivals England and France taking on each other. A rematch of the two teams was said to have taken place just before the 2012 Olympics.
Skiing is a popular sport in France, the best places for skiing are in the mountainous areas in the south, centre and east of the country where most French ski resorts are located.
Émile Allais won four World Championship golds in the 1930s. Henri Oreiller won Olympic gold at the 1948 Winter Olympics. Jean-Claude Killy dominated alpine skiing in the late 1960s, winning all three alpine skiing golds on offer at the 1968 Winter Olympics on French snow in Grenoble. These events also served as the 1968 Alpine Skiing World Championships, and in addition, Killy won the World Championship Combined event in 1968 to add to golds in the Downhill and Combined won at the 1966 World Championships. He also won the first two overall Alpine Skiing World Cup titles. Marielle Goitschel won two Olympic golds, an additional five World Championship golds and three discipline World Cup titles in the 1960s. Guy Périllat was a double World Championship gold medalist in the 1960s. Fabienne Serrat won two golds at the 1974 World Championships. More recently Luc Alphand won the overall World Cup in 1997 and four discipline titles in Downhill and Super Giant Slalom. Jean-Baptiste Grange was Slalom World Cup champion in 2009 and Slalom World Champion in 2011 and 2015. In January 2017 Alexis Pinturault set a new record for World Cup wins by a French skier when he took his 19th victory in a giant slalom in Adelboden, breaking Jean-Claude Killy's record.
French success in cross-country skiing has been somewhat more limited. However Vincent Vittoz did win a gold medal in the 15 km + 15 km double pursuit at the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in 2005. He also finished as runner up in the Distance World Cup for three consecutive seasons from 2004/05 to 2006/07.
Jason Lamy-Chappuis has been an extremely successful competitor in Nordic combined. He won a gold medal in the Individual normal hill/10 km competition at the 2010 Winter Olympics as well as four World Championship golds and three consecutive FIS Nordic Combined World Cups between 2009/10 and 2011/12.
France has enjoyed great success in Biathlon in recent years. Raphaël Poirée won seven Biathlon World Championship golds and four overall Biathlon World Cups. He is the joint second most successful male biathlete of all time in terms of winning overall World Cup titles, and scored 44 World Cup victories. Martin Fourcade has won 6 World Championship golds, 4 overall World Cup titles 1 silver medal in Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games and 2 gold medals in Sochi 2014 Olympic Games.
- Holt, R. "Women, men and sport in France, c. 1870–1914: An introductory survey," Journal of Sport History (1991)
- Krasnoff, Lindsay Sarah. The Making of "Les Bleus": Sport in France, 1958-2010 (Lexington Books; 2012) 214 pages; examines the politics of the French state's efforts to create elite athletes in football and basketball at the youth level.
- Weber, Eugen. "Gymnastics and sport in fin de siècle France", American Historical Review 76 (1971)
Thursday night’s semifinal match between France and Germany in many ways felt like a final. That was in part because many in France seem resigned to the idea that, as is customary, they would lose to the Germans. But Les Bleus pulled off a victory, 2-0, and in the process silenced skeptics and incited a burst of intense enthusiasm here in France. The celebrations in Paris that night were spurred on by a sense of surprise, and delight. On the subways and cafés and in crowds that flooded onto the streets, people chanted: “On est en finale!!”—“We’re in the final!”—and intoned the Marseillaise, many still not quite believing what had just happened.
The highlight of the game for me was one motion of Paul Pogba’s right foot. Not when it kicked the ball or dribbled, but when—for a delightful moment—he waved it about, playfully, in front of the German defender.
The distraction enabled Pogba to cut left and send in a cross that was punched into the goal by Antoine Griezmann. It was joyful, a moment of grace on the pitch. It summed up the French performance that night: a little improbable, unexpected, alight.
Football creates its own strange chronologies, connecting events years or decades apart, sometimes seeming to place them in the same moment in time. That was powerfully true on Thursday. “There is a history between France and Germany,” as Aleksandar Hemon wrote on this blog the other day, and it is a sedimented with disappointment and symbolism. The last time France defeated Germany in an international competition was during the 1958 World Cup. The scoreline was an impressive one: 6-3, with four goals scored by one player, Just Fontaine.
Since then, it has been all defeats, the most memorable of them in the 1980s. French fans have not forgotten. I watched the semifinal with a friend, historian Jean Hebrard, who vividly remembers listening to the legendary 1982 France-West Germany World-Cup semifinal on the radio. It was a traumatic defeat for France, of course processed through a larger historical lens of generations who had grown up during or soon after World War II. As Jean told me after the match, there was a way in which he’d been waiting 34 years to find some measure of resolution.
We began watching the match feeling like a German victory was both unacceptable and nearly inevitable. I joked with Jean that my hope was that France would prevent Germany from scoring for at least the first two minutes. “No,” he riposted, feigning pride, “we’ll last at least three minutes!” Thirty minutes in, we concluded that Jeanne d’Arc must be intervening to prevent a German goal—that was the only possible explanation. In reailty, there were reasons for confidence. Germany’s tactics were, as usual, impeccable, with short passes in the midfield, building towards a goal. Except, missing key players, they never got that close to the goal. France defended successfully, and also—throughout the game—had plenty of luck. “Les Allemands n’ont pas de chance,” Jean kept repeating, with a smile. “Those Germans are unlucky.”
German coach Joachim Löw claimed afterwards they were the “better team”—naturally—but as the match wore on he seemed increasingly desperate, as did many of the German players. The most memorable image of Löw from Thursday night is this pastiche of one of his desperate faces with Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
When Jérome Boateng, the pivotal defender for Germany, injured himself and was helped off the field, his expression as he sat on the bench—a towel over his head—suggested he knew they were going to lose. His absence was key: the defender who replaced him, Shodran Mustafi, was beaten by Pogba on that cross that led to the second goal.
The game took place in Marseille, where at the beginning of the tournament English and Russian fans had fought one another, with flares launched into one section of the stadium after altercations in the streets. The crowds on Thursday were raucous, but nothing like that happened this time. And as intense as the game was, there was a palpable sense of respect and camaraderie on the pitch, with comparatively few confrontations.
That may have been because of some more recent history that connects the two teams. France and Germany last played against each other in a friendly match on November 13 of last year, in the Stade de France. It was the night of the terror attacks in France, during which several men tried to set off bombs in the stadium during the game. They failed to enter the stadium itself, so the explosions took place near an entrance and on nearby streets. Those explosions were heard inside the stadium, causing Patrice Evra at one point to pause, but only briefly. With many in the stadium unaware of what was happening, the game was played to the end that night, and France won the match, also by the score of 2-0.
Two of the French players on the pitch that night, Antoine Griezmann and Lassana Diarra (who is not on the roster for the European Cup), had relatives who were caught up in the attacks elsewhere in Paris. Griezmann’s sister survived the attack on the Bataclan, while Diarra’s cousin was killed by gunmen at a nearby café.
Rather than risk travelling in the city on November 13, the two teams ended up spending the night, together, in the stadium. That experience might have tied them together in ways that shaped the way they approached Thursday’s game.
Like previous French teams, this one has many players of immigrant background. The numbers are not as large as they were in 2006, when fully 19 of the 23 men on the roster were of either Caribbean or African (including North African) descent. Six of the players who started against Germany are the children of African immigrants, along with a key substitute, N’Golo Kanté of Leicester City. Another French star , Dimitri Payet, is from Reunion Island, a department of France in the Indian Ocean. And the new national hero Griezmann’s grandfather was a Portuguese football player named Amaro Lopes. Given that the far-right National Front party has long trolled French players of immigrant heritage, a victory for this team would help send a message—as it did when France won the World Cup in 1998—that the nation is only strengthened by its diversity.
The French team has received plenty of criticism in recent years. They fizzled at the 2014 World Cup, and in 2010 the team basically melted down as players revolted against the coach. The spokesman for the players then was Patrice Evra, who spent a while in exile from the national team as a result. But the current coach Didier Deschamps brought him back and Evra is now a pillar of the team, a veteran whose role has been fundamental on and off the pitch. The playful relationship between Evra and Pogba, for instance, is captured in this video and in a hilarious post-match moment in which the two of them pretended to be journalists interview each other.
They face their final test in Portugal tomorrow night. Here, history is in their favor, for it has been a long, long time since Portugal has defeated France. Still, the Portuguese have been a tough test before. France’s semifinal match against Portugal in the 2006 World Cup was hard fought, and only the heroics of defender Lilian Thuram kept the Portuguese at bay.
One of the standout performances against Germany this Thursday came from defender Samuel Umtiti, who reminded me of Thuram: ever-present, seeming oddly serene given that it was only his second senior-level international match. If he plays Sunday, he will likely have to make a few key stops against to help France through.
Football rarely follows the script people want it to. But if France wins Sunday, the plot will feel perfect (maybe a little too perfect). It won’t be 1998, in part because the country has already learned from that experience that the hope and unity generated from a football victory is necessarily fleeting. But for young French fans raised on the legends of that year, it will be a chance to take to the streets, feeling free and fearless, and for a time live out and imagine what Hemon has called “a better France.”
In an essay about his own practice of football in Chicago—entitled “If God Existed He’d Be A Solid Midfielder”—Hemon wrote about the pleasure of “the moment, arising from the chaos of the game, when all your teammates occupy the ideal position on the field; the moment when the universe seems to be arranged by a meaningful will that is not yours.” It almost always quickly “perishes—as moments tend to” but it captures that “pleasant, tingling sensation of being connected with something bigger and better than me.”
On a much larger scale, that is what I—and certainly millions upon millions of others in France—felt when Pogba danced briefly before passing to Griezmann.
We can hope that we’ll some of those moments on Sunday night. If so, the streets of Paris will be filled with honking cars and buses, with people who are suddenly friends, connected by a flag and stories about the moments they just watched together on the pitch. And, maybe, the night will stretch out and feel, for a few hours, like it leads to some place new—a different France, a different Europe.
Read more Slate coverage of Euro 2016.