A precursor. Jacques Chirac or Nicolas Sarkozy also understood it, but Valéry Giscard d’Estaing who died this Wednesday at the age of 94 after hospitalization in Tours, was the first of the French presidents to understand that sport had great potential in terms of communication.
• Front page of Tennis Magazine
Younger president than his two predecessors, Charles de Gaulle and Georges Pompidou, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, 48 years old when he arrived at the Elysee Palace in 1974, relied in particular on sport to maintain his image as a modern man. Fan of tennis since his childhood, he quickly understood that he could use this passion to take care of his communication. In August 1978, the monthly Tennis Magazine (now bimonthly since 2019) which is in its 29th issue, publishes a photo of Valéry Giscard d’Estaing on the front page. We see the then president hitting the ball in a white ensemble, short shorts and cotton jacket, on the clay court of an upscale club on the outskirts of Paris. The monthly headlines its magazine: “Giscard’s tennis lesson. ”
If he knew how to use this passion for the yellow ball, an anecdote shows that he was a real tennis fanatic. During his first vacation at Fort de Brégançon (Var), the official holiday residence for the Presidents of the Republic since 1968, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing intends to take advantage of his few days off to “hit the ball”. But unfortunately the rock which shelters the residence does not benefit from short. After a quick survey, the president discovered a tennis court at the Château de Brégançon, three or four kilometers from the fort. VGE then calls the owners: “Hello, this is the President of the Republic Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. Can I come and play tennis at your place? ” The owners only realize that it is indeed the head of state when he comes before them, racket in hand. “This tennis court, Giscard will almost annex it! Every time he comes to Brégançon, he comes to their house to play tennis “, says Guillaume Daret, author of the book “Le Fort de Brégançon”. “He even arrives once directly from Paris, still in a suit and tie, and goes to change in a room next door.. ”
• Family skiing, in front of 60 journalists
Besides tennis, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing has another hobby (reserved especially for the time for the elites), skiing. Despite this very distinctive social marker, VGE lets himself be filmed and photographed while skiing to serve his communication. In February 1975, less than a year after his election, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing invited nearly 60 journalists to Courchevel to document his sports holidays to hit the slopes. A report still available on the INA, however, calls into question his qualities as a novice skier! “According to specialists, the president practices a ski a little too stiff, he is criticized for a lack of flexibility and a search for pure speed “, calmly explains the journalist’s voice-over. It may be a question of temperament but do not correct who wants. “
Even before his election to the presidency, while still the general’s finance minister, VGE displayed his love of skiing. He had in particular hurtle down the north face of Mont-Blanc with Maurice Herzog – former Secretary of State for Sports, Mayor of Chamonix and Alpinist – and a teacher from the national ski and mountaineering school named André Contamine. All after a helicopter drop.
• Hero of a football match
This “marketing” approach to sport, VGE will have further cultivated with football. For a president, the king sport represents a suitable tool to serve his image. Popular sport par excellence, the round ball also allows it to reduce its posh side.
A year before being elected president (and therefore in the midst of the electoral campaign), the one who is still only Minister of the Economy and Finance does not hesitate to put on his crampons. We are in June 1973, near Chamalières in Augergne. Mayor of this town of 18,000 inhabitants, Giscard therefore participates in a football match between traders and elected municipal officials. Journalists are obviously at the rendezvous.
As with skiing, some observers point to its lack of agility, due in part to its slender silhouette (1.89m). And while the team of captain Giscard is led 2-1, the referee whistles a penalty. The VAR does not exist, no protest possible, and VGE is responsible for transforming the penalty against a feverish goalkeeper … This Wednesday, the former head of state could not win his last duel.