Sarkozy runs into a storm over his un-French habit of jogging
PRESIDENT Sarkozy has fallen foul of intellectuals and critics who see his passion for jogging as un-French, right-wing and even a ploy to brainwash his citizens.
Attacks on Mr Sarkozy's pastime, which he has made a symbol of his presidency, began on the internet as soon as he bounded up the steps of the Elysee Palace in shorts when he took office in May. That moment has become the icon of his hyperenergetic administration. The grumbling has now moved to television and the press.
"Is jogging right wing?" wondered 'Liberation', the left-wing newspaper. Alain Finkelkraut, a celebrated philosopher, begged Mr Sarkozy on France 2, the main state television channel, to abandon his "undignified" pursuit. He should take up walking, like Socrates, Arthur Rimbaud, the poet, and other great men, said Mr Finkelkraut.
"Western civilisation, in its best sense, was born with the promenade. Walking is a sensitive, spiritual act. Jogging is management of the body. The jogger says I am in control. It has nothing to do with meditation."
Mr Sarkozy's habit infuriates his critics - and some supporters - because he flaunts it so hard. Le running du President, often clad in his favourite NYPD T-shirt, has become a ritual, like King Louis XIV's rides at Versailles. He has practised it at summits in Brussels and Germany and he is looking forward to a bonding jog with Jose Socrates, the Prime Minister of Portugal, which took over the European Union presidency this week.
Until "Speedy Sarko" won office, French heads of state shunned physical exercise in public. The late Francois Mitterrand was privately partial to golf, but the reflective stroll was his public trademark. Jacques Chirac, Mr Sarkozy's predecessor, was famous for his energy, but in public he moved at walking pace and in suit and tie.
Le jogging, originally known as le footing and now more fashionably as le running, caught on in France, as elsewhere, in the 1980s and eight million claim to indulge. But Mr Sarkozy has rekindled a French suspicion that the habit is for self-centred individualists such as the Americans who popularised it. "Jogging is of course about performance and individualism, values that are traditionally ascribed to the Right," Odile Baudrier, editor of 'V02 magazine', a sports publication, told Liberation. Patrick Mignon, a sports sociologist, noted that French intellectuals had always held sport in contempt, while totalitarian regimes cultivated physical fitness.
Beyond the self-promotion, some commentators see something sinister in the media fascination with le jogging de Supersarko. The "hypnotic" daily images of presidential running are not innocent, said Daniel Schneidermann, a media critic.
Mr Sarkozy uses the video images of his jogging as "a major weapon of media manipulation", said Mr Schneidermann.