After fleeing civil war for Australia, the Matildas became a French footballer's new heroes


In a continuing series, SBS News looks at some of the nations competing in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup through the eyes of their fans in Australia.

You could say the Chauvet family is lucky to have lived to tell their tale. 

They now call Australia home but things could have turned out very differently. 

In 2004, the family was living in the Ivory Coast when riots broke out across the country. French citizens like them were targeted after the Ivory Coast's air force was destroyed by the French military. 

Margaux Chauvet & Renaud Chauvet
Margaux Chauvet with her father Renaud Chauvet after a training session at Valentine Sports Park, Sydney.
Adrian Arciuli

Renaud Chauvet was working in the French embassy at the time as a warden and his family were soon under siege. 

"Ivorian workers who worked at the embassy got the list of all the wardens with their names and addresses," Mr Chauvet told SBS News. 

"When the riots started, the wardens were targeted. We spent two days locked up in our house with the kids, Vincent and Margaux, being attacked."

"People were trying to break through the doors and, thank God, I got them reinforced that summer.

"It wasn't a very good memory, let's put it this way."

Margaux Chauvet on fleeing the Ivory Coast with her French family
Margaux Chauvet on fleeing the Ivory Coast with her French family

The family was only able to escape with the help of the French Foreign Legion. 

"We got out of the house with people shooting up in the air," Mr Chauvet said. 

"Margaux was under my arm, we jumped in a car and drove to a hotel and stood there for three hours. A military chopper came and took us.

"On that one weekend, 8,000 families were evacuated, it was bad."

Margaux Chauvet meets the Matildas
An eight-year-old Margaux meets Matildas players in Wollongong in 2010.

Margaux was only three at the time and has limited memory of the harrowing ideal.

"I just remember having to get out of the country and going to another location on a helicopter because there was people shooting at our house and everything because of the war," she said. 

"When my parents tell me the stories, I can't believe we even did that."

For eight months, the family relocated to France before moving to Australia in November 2005. 

Margaux has since developed into a rising star of Australian football. She plays for the Football NSW Institute and dreams of one day playing for the Matildas.

They return to France to visit when they can. 

Margaux Chauvet
Margaux Chauvet, 16, plays for the Football NSW Institute.
Adrian Arciuli

'Playing with the boys'

Dominique Garnier grew up in the French region of Normandy but is now in Sydney, helping mentor the next generation of Australian goalkeepers. 

He bemoans the lack of pathways for young girls playing football in France. 

"The women's football in Australia is so much better," the goalkeeper coach for Football Federation Australia's Future Matildas program.

"If you want to play in France you have to play in the boys team - that is a big problem." 

Dominique Garnier
Dominique Garnier is helping train the next generation of Australian goalkeepers.
Adrian Arciuli

But flaws in the junior system are on the way to being fixed. 

When France reached the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2011, the French Football Federation took action. 

It won the hosting rights to the tournament in 2015 and begun investing more money in women's football. Clubs across the country were also ordered to start implementing academies for girls. 

If France lifts the World Cup trophy in its own tournament, Garnier believes the opportunities will be endless for future generations of young French players.

"It will not be a problem anymore, they [the French Federation] will create competitions between young girls at school ... It will be like Australia." 

Amandine Henryat
French captain Amandine Henryat playing against Japan in April.
Getty Images Europe

When the World Cup begins in France on the 8th of June, loyalties will be split. 

"If they [Australia and France] play together it's a bonus because I get to watch both of my favourite teams," she said. 

"I'm pretty much equal but because I'm Australian and I want to play for Australia, I've got to give it to them."

France though will always be a second home for the Chauvets, and 'Les Bleus' will no doubt have the wider family's support. 

France is in Group A along with Norway and Nigeria, as well as South Korea who they play first on 8 June. 

The 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup takes place in France, 7 June-7 July.

Read more news from the Women's World Cup and see the rest of the stories in the World Cup Fans series.  

SBS will offer all Matildas matches, the opening game, the quarter-finals, semi-finals and final live, free and in HD. All SBS games will also be live streamed on The World Game website and app.

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