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Interview with Chafik Besseghier
Hi, this is my translation of an interview with French figure skater Chafik Besseghier that was featured in the French newspaper Le Nouvel Obsérvateur. Please notify me of any errors such as typos or spelling mistakes. I did check over the text, but there might have been a few things I've missed.
Also: I felt a tinge of sadness when I read Chafik saying that Surya Bonaly was robbed of her wins because of her race. Regardless of the truth value of this allegation, I think it must be painful for young French skaters of African descent to believe that they might not be welcome in the sport and be allowed to win.
The kid from an immigrant neighborhood made a name for himself in a ¨sport for girls.¨
Son of immigrants, raised in a modest neighborhood of Grenoble,Chafik Besseghier didn't fit the profile of a perfect skater. Today he is one of the four best skaters in France.
At 22 years of age, he will glide before the cameras of the whole word on the occasion of Trophy Eric Bompard (from 19th to 20th of November at Paris-Bercy), an important competition in the world of figure skating.
But despite the excitement of participating at his second Grand Prix (the equivalent of a Grand Slam tennis tournament), he reacts with his typical smile. The Franco-Algerian Chafik Besseghier cautiously takes off his gloves and turns off the sound of the American r&b singer whose voice can be heard over the speakers.
“This is a really nice young man, with strong values that were passed down to him by his parents,” introduces him Françoise Bonnard, his long-time coach. You could also qualify him as ¨shy¨ and ¨humble.¨
¨He is someone a bit introverted, a person who doesn't express himself as easily by speaking as he does by moving on the ice.¨
Born on the ¨open days.¨
The story of the blades starts shortly before he turns thirteen and somewhat by accident, at an age when a skater already knows if he'll be able to make it big time or not. Besseghier recollects:
¨I liked skating during the sessions open to the public. But at the beginning I wanted to play hockey.¨
Too scrawny, not skilled enough with his hands, he fails to make the team of hockey club Brûleurs de loups, a source of local pride.
One day in August 2002, while attending the rink on the day of open doors with his sister and mother, he puts on a pair of skates. Immediately he is spotted by the trainers standing rinkside who challenge him to land two double jumps.
He executes seven of them. Katia Krier, who's in charge of figure skating at the technical direction of the French Federation confirms:
¨It's obvious that he is talented. His build and physical qualities match up perfectly with the demands of the sport. That has enabled him to catch up despite a late start.¨
The Grenoblian is today one of the top four of French male skaters, according to the representative of the federation. Based on his results he is closing in on third place, on the heels of Brian Joubert. In 2002, a European bronze medal launched the career of the skater who is now a (former) world champion and a three time European champion. That same year, Besseghier laced up his skates for the first time.
My father wanted me to play soccer
In the neighborhood of Malherbe where he grew up, figure skating was far from being on the minds of most people.
¨It wasn't all that easy, at first, to tell my friends what sport I was practicing. My father wanted me to play soccer. They were all making fun of me. As for myself, I thought that it was a sport for girls.¨
Today his friends are among his most fervent supporters, just behind his parents. It was easier to get them on his side than the skating establishment itself.
¨I remember my junior competitions when I finished at the bottom of the pack. Some of my competitors told me: ¨You'll never make it, you started too late!¨ I didn't get any gifts. But that didn´t bring me down. On the contrary, it motivated me and I made progress. Today, a lot of them are no longer competing.
Chafik Besseghier is the sliver medalist at the French Junior Nationals of 2009 and has finished in fifth place at last year's World University Games. Predictably there's a strong temptation to turn this young guy from an immigrant neighborhood into a symbol of integration. But he doesn't demand that sort of recognition. He is simply happy to serve as aspirational example for others.
¨I want to show that it's possible to be a person of color hailing from an immigrant neighborhood but still be someone normal. A lot of people feel rejected by society and give up. I want to show them that it's possible to achieve success in sports but also at work or in school.¨
Atypical, but that's all
Chafik Besseghier doesn't hide his pride at being one of the first French skaters of North African descent to make it at this level of the sport. He hasn't forgotten about the sacrifices his parents had to make to pay for his license fees or for the used skates that he wore down to the max so he wouldn't have to buy new ones too often.
But even if he is aware that he is one of the most atypical members of the French team, he points out that ¨today there is a young group of mixed race skaters from diverse backgrounds. Ten years ago, I don't think I would have felt comfortable in the world of French skating. But the attitudes have changed from the time when Surya Bonaly was denied her wins because she was black.¨
A medal at the French championships in December, the equivalent of a qualification for the Europeans, would be the best proof.
Last edited by krenseby; 11-20-2011 at 03:47 AM.
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He shouldn't feel bad since he is actually welcome in the sport, as anyone else. His teamates from african origins as well. And he should know that Surya Bonaly didn't loose the world title because of her color but because someone else was better than her.
Originally Posted by krenseby
What he is insinuating is a biaised debat that won't help him.
Considering that there had already been a black Ladies' World Champion before Bonaly emerged as an elite skater, the suggestion that Bonaly was robbed of wins because she was black is risible. For that matter, there had been a Pairs World Champion back in the 1970's who had some black ancestry.
I can understand, though, that the French might feel that Bonaly was unfairly treated and should have won a World Championship and would look around for an easy explanation. The explanation offered just happens to be incorrect.
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The problem is that he didn't come out by himself with the idea that Bonaly was robbed. It was suggested by his surrounding since at the time Chafik was not in the sport at all. So, this bad idea comes from either his coach and/or his teamates/friends. And this is extremely unprofessional and risible as well. It's a very well known thing that Bonaly, despites her technical and physical extreme habilities, was not a well packaged skater and that she lacked of one important element in FS that is skating skills. That's why she lost and that's what should have been explained to this boy before he comes up with the racist thing.
Originally Posted by Vagabond
Once again a boy from algerian origin pointing his supposed difference as a reason for his potential lack of success in the future. That is not a way to start a career in any environment.
He has been given a chance to compete at the highest level because he indeed has the level to do so, this is fair and he has no reason to complain at all. Sport is difficult for anyone, not only for him.
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That's an excellent point. I get a feeling that there are quite a few people in the French figure skating world that talk about how Surya Bonaly was the victim of racism. However, I would like to emphasize that I am sure that Surya wanted that gold medal at Worlds really badly and felt dejected that she couldn't get it. The only question I have about her career is why she didn't work with a coach that would have improved her skating skills. She certainly deserved to work with a coach like that. She was talented enough.
Originally Posted by Artifice
Last edited by krenseby; 11-22-2011 at 12:03 AM.
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I was there when Surya made her Europeans debut in the UK in 1989. It is true that her family background and - it has to be admitted - her colour drew a lot of attention at the time. Following her career with interest from then on, I heard it said that it was her adoptive mother's over-riding influence that interfered with her development as a skater. Whether that was true or not I don't know, but I never once heard anything to suggest her colour had anything at all to do with her results. She was a hard worker and since turning pro could still do triple jumps the last time I saw her (about 3 years ago I think). Her Federation has been accused of favouritism in the past - but which one hasn't?
I have just returned from the Bompard Trophy and can't feel any accusation of racism can be levelled in French skating now! As a Junior Chafik showed raw talent in Graz a couple of years ago and I enjoyed seeing how he has matured since then.