Paris versus "the Province": A Weekend in Lyon

By: Matthew Cullom

March 31, 2017

This past weekend, I journeyed with Sciences Po Paris’s soccer team to Lyon for Le Critérium inter-IEP (CRIT), a three-day long sports tournament between the 10 largest Sciences Pos (political science universities) in France. Every year each university sends around 20 different sports teams. Each delegation is accompanied by a band of “ultras,” the school teams’ rowdiest, most dedicated supporters. These guys don’t mess around.

The competition is truly a microcosm of French society’s core-periphery phenomenon—a Hunger-Games-like challenge in which the capital is perceived, and perceives itself, as uniquely distinct from the regions that surround it. Paris is five times larger than France’s second largest city in terms of population. And in French, there is even a word—le Province—that basically means “rest of France” or “the provinces.” France is very much a centralized state, and Paris is its epicenter. 

To say that the CRIT was a competition of everyone against Paris wouldn’t be an exaggeration. When our busses pulled up to tournament headquarters, the other teams and supporters erupted in chants: “Province unis, tous contre Paris!” (Province united, everyone against Paris!) Expecting the worst, we headed to breakfast in Roman testudo formation. As expected, we were quickly ambushed by hundreds of provincaux. They chucked eggs, pastries, and regional delicacies (mussels or pig blood for example). Flares were lit, an egg nailed me, and I saw one too many 20-year-olds in a Borat speedo. 

The weekend’s schedule was hectic. Every day, we awoke at 8:00 a.m. to go to the fields. We played one or two games a day and spent the rest of the day cheering on Paris’ teams. Afterwards, dinner was provided at Lyon’s cafeteria. Then, we packed in the busses and headed to the soirées, which would typically last till 2:00 a.m. Then we’d all return the hotel for a solid 5 hours of sleep. 

In the end, Paris dominated, as usual. Out of 20 events, Paris was in the final for almost all of them. Of course, the only sport where Paris couldn’t quite compete was la Pétanque (bocci ball), which is practically the national sport of southern France. 

As for soccer, after making it through the group stage and defeating Toulouse and Aix in the quarters and semis, we qualified for the final for Sunday afternoon. We defeated Grenoble 2 to 1 in front of hundreds of raucous provincaux and maybe 75 or so Parisians. 

This weekend will easily be my favorite memory from my year abroad in Paris. To be honest, it was the sense of community and belonging offered by the team that encouraged me to extend my semester to the full year back in October. Good thing I stayed, or I would have missed the CRIT. “Merci les gars!”

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Paris versus "the Province": A Weekend in Lyon