L'Équipe (French for "the team") is a French nationwide daily newspaper devoted to sports. The paper is noted for coverage of football (soccer), rugby, motorsports and cycling. Its ancestor was L'Auto, a general sports paper, whose name reflected not any narrow interest but the excitement of the time in car racing.
L'Auto originated the Tour de France cycling stage race in 1903 as a circulation booster. The race leader's yellow jersey (maillot jaune) was instituted in 1919, probably to reflect the distinctive yellow newsprint on which L'Auto was published.
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As different sides of society insisted he was guilty or innocent - he was eventually cleared but only after rigged trials had banished him to an island prison camp - the split came close to civil war and still have their echoes in modern French society.
France's largest sports paper, Le Vélo, mixed sports coverage with political comment. Its editor, Pierre Giffard, believed Dreyfus innocent and said so, leading to acrid disagreement with his main advertisers. Among them were the automobile-maker the Comte de Dion and the industrialist Clément. Frustrated at Giffard's politics, they planned a rival paper. The editor was a prominent racing cyclist, Henri Desgrange, who had published a book of cycling tactics and training and was working as a publicity writer for Clément. Desgrange was a strong character but lacked confidence, so much doubting the Tour de France founded in his name that he stayed away from the pioneering race in 1903 until it looked like being a success.
That lack of confidence showed in the name chosen for his new paper, L'Auto-Vélo, which a court decided three years after its foundation in 1900 was too close to Giffard's. Reference to 'Vélo' was dropped and the new paper became simply L'Auto. It was printed on yellow paper because Giffard used green.
Circulation was sluggish, however, and only a crisis meeting called "to nail Giffard's beak shut", as Desgrange phrased it, came to its rescue. Then, on the first floor of the paper's offices in the rue du Faubourg-Montmartre in Paris, a 23-year-old cycling and rugby writer called Géo Lefèvre suggested a race round France, bigger than any other paper could rival and akin to six-day races on the track.
The Tour de France proved a success for the newspaper; circulation leapt from 25,000 before the 1903 Tour to 65,000 after it; in 1908 the race boosted circulation past a quarter of a million, and during the 1923 Tour it was selling 500,000 copies a day. The record circulation claimed by Desgrange was 854,000, achieved during the 1933 Tour.
Desgrange died in 1940 and ownership passed to a consortium of Germans. The paper began printing comment not unfavourable to the occupying Nazis and its doors were nailed shut with the return of peace. No paper having printed under the Germans was allowed to continue.
The man who succeeded Desgrange as editor and organiser of the Tour de France (although he refused German requests to run it during the war, see Tour de France during the Second World War), was Jacques Goddet, son of L'Auto's first financial director, Victor Goddet. Goddet defended his paper's role in a court case brought by the French government but was never wholly cleared in the public mind of being close if not to the Germans then to the puppet president, Philippe Pétain.
Goddet could point, however, to clandestine printing of Resistance newspapers and pamphlets in the L'Auto print room and he was allowed to publish a successor paper called L'Équipe. It occupied premises across the road from where L'Auto had been, in a building in fact owned by L'Auto, although the original paper's assets had been sequestrated by the state. One conditions of publication imposed by the state was that L'Équipe was to use white paper rather than yellow, which was too closely attached to L'Auto.
The new paper was published three times a week from 28 February 1946. Since 1948 it has been published daily. The paper benefitted from the demise of its competitors, L’Élan, and Le Sport. Its coverage of car racing hints at the paper's ancestry by printing the words L'Auto at the head of the page in the gothic print used in the main title of the pre-war paper.
The paper was bought by the Amaury group (Philippe Amaury Publications) in 1968. At Philippe Amaury's death in 2006, the group passed to his widow, Marie-Odile, and their children. Among L'Équipe's most respected writers have been Pierre Chany, Antoine Blondin and Gabriel Hanot.
L'Équipe has published a magazine to go with its Saturday editions since 1980. In 2005 it added Sports et Style and, in L L'Équipe Féminine. In 2006 it bought the free monthly, Le Journal du Golf.
|Ben Johnson *|
|Hicham El Guerrouj|