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Block That Hype! Nonfans Try To Escape From Cup Hoopla

An 'anti-foot' movement in France tries to avoid the 'opium of the people.'

I don't know whether you have noticed that the World Cup is currently under way in France. If you were sitting where I sit, you could hardly fail to.

When my radio alarm wakes me in the morning, it is with the score of last night's match. When I sit down to breakfast, my yogurt is decked out as an official World Cup yogurt, with the "France 98" symbol - a soccer ball rising like a sun over the globe - decorating the pot. When I go to work, whether by metro or bus, I am being transported by an official World Cup carrier.

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When I read my paper, half of it is about the World Cup. Even the serious-minded Le Monde, so conservative that it doesn't carry photographs, is running an eight-page daily World Cup supplement. And when I switch on the television, three ads out of four are soccer-related.

Everywhere I look, a blue, orange, and yellow chicken called "Footix" - a cuddly version of the Gallic rooster that has become this year's World Cup mascot - grins back at me.

Short of digging a 20-foot hole to hide in for the next month, there is simply no way of escaping the planet's premier soccer event. Even if I were to choose temporary exile, the trains or planes carrying me to salvation would be operated by companies that are official Cup partners, with tournament logos daubed all over their locomotives and tail fins.

But in the midst of all this hysteria, you can find an "anti-foot" movement, as it has become known. It feeds on and caters to the 35 percent of the French population - that's about 20 million people - who say they don't give a fig for soccer, or football, as it is known here.

There are the anarchist groups, such as the Committee for the Organization of a Boycott of the World Cup in France, which perhaps takes the tournament a teeny bit too seriously: "Football is the opium of the people ... packing the proletariat into the stands so that they are not in the streets protesting," reads its boycott appeal.

There are the artistic types, dismayed by the commercialization of the whole affair and by the sheep-like manner in which people are being herded into a state of heightened enthusiasm.

Inspired by Franck Slama, a young multimedia artist, a bar near Paris's trendy Place de la Bastille has turned itself into the unofficial headquarters of the anti-foot movement.

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Every night it lays on concerts, dances, art shows, or other happenings that have one thing in common: They have nothing to do with soccer. "If you don't like soccer, you are not alone [here]," Mr. Slama says.

Of course, a good number of those who are left cold by soccer mania are women, a fact that has not escaped the notice of some Parisian restaurants. Three have banded together with Ford of France to offer a special deal to female diners during the World Cup: They will be picked up in a sports car, driven to the restaurant, given a free "anti-Cup" drink before supper, and driven home again afterward.

Even the legendary Folies Bergeres in Montmartre is promoting itself as an alternative to soccer.

It has taken off its standard can-can dancing girl show - a spectacle that generally attracts men - and replaced it with a special show targeted at World Cup widows, the "California Dream Men."

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