Arts, Culture & Media

French puppet TV show ignites diplomatic protest over portrayal of Spanish athletes


A parody of Spanish athletes, like as tennis player Rafael Nadal, above as a puppet, by French TV show "Les Guignols de l’info" has triggered a spat between France and Spain. (Photo from a video by Les Guignols.)

There's anger in Spain right now. It's pointed at France and it is only loosely related to a Spaniard losing his Tour de France title.

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It has to do with puppets. French TV puppets. The Guignols have set off a diplomatic spat between Spain and France. France’s Guignols are a cross between Saturday Night Live and the Muppets: all satire and latex.

In a recent video parody of Spanish athletes, a puppet of disgraced cyclist Alberto Contador sings that he’s got bull’s blood in his veins. Tennis superstar Rafael Nadal croons about his stash of clean blood hidden in his fridge.

This is daily fare on French TV, but here on the south side of the Pyrenees it's touched a nerve. Nadal has been among the most outspoken critics — perhaps because of this second Guignols video which shows him urinating in the gas tank of his own car, then speeding off at 200 miles an hour.

“This isn’t an attack against me,” Nadal told reporters during training this week, “but an attack against Spanish sports and the Spanish people.”

As such, Spain’s foreign minister has chimed in. Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said official complaints had been sent to French media outlets, and especially to Canal Plus, which hosts the Guignols.

But why the doping parody to begin with? Contador was recently busted and stripped of his title, but, generally speaking, Spanish athletes don’t get caught doping more often than others. The crux of the matter seems to be Spain’s athletic success.

It makes some French suspicious.

In recent years Spain has come to dominate soccer, basketball, tennis and cycling. Impossible, goes the innuendo, without a little synthetic pick-me-up. For the Spanish, the French are just jealous.

One recent news report on Spanish public television pointed out that France hasn’t won a Tour de France since the 1980s, or even the French Open for that matter. Then the reporter rattled off a long list of Spanish victories.

Missing in this uproar is any appreciation for how funny the Guignols’ rubber puppets are. Nor is the fact that they’re rubber puppets making Spaniards a little less angry. But some news out of France on Friday does have them seeing the bright side once more.

A French prosecutor announced he was opening an investigation into Patrice Ciprelli, the husband and coach of legendary French cyclist Jeannie Longo. Ciprelli has admitted to purchasing the banned performance-booster EPO.