A sporting chance in Paris’ banlieue

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“There is a myth that the suburbs in the outskirts of Paris are full of violence and disruption,” says Camilo Leon-Quijano, who is completing a PhD on the relationship between photography and the experience of living in low-income banlieue. “For me, it is just another place where you live and grow. Media and even academic discourse always tries to put these places down.”

Originally from Bogota, Colombia, Leon-Quijano has worked in his own country’s suburbs, the favelas, and has been studying in Paris for the last five years.  “I wanted to see how people live, and try to leave behind all these negative stereotypes,” he explains.

He spent the last academic year photographing the female rugby team from the Chantereine High School of Sarcelles, who became one of the best newcomer teams in the country in 2016. Historically, the suburbs of Paris are relegated and stigmatised, says Leon-Quijano, and Sacrelles is one of the most impoverished areas.

Keneba and Diaba take a breath after being playing all the afternoon in the Coupe du Val d’Oise. From The Rugbywomen © Camilo Leon-Quijano

The team’s coach, Florian Clement, started the project in the hope it would help limit school drop-out rates, and one of the team’s rules is that in order to play, the girls must keep up their grades and attendance. For Koromba, a once-troubled student who Leon-Quijano became close to, the initiative has been a game-changer. At one stage she was close to being expelled from school, but now she has been accepted at the USAP, a specialised rugby training centre in Perpignan.

At the end of the school year, Leon-Quijano exhibited large 4x3m prints of his photographs on the school grounds. It was the first time the walls had been used for large displays of art. “For three or four months, the girls were the protagonists of the high school,” says Leon-Quijano. “It was really moving.”

www.camilo-leon.com www.therugbywomen.com

Koumba, 16, is one of the best players of Chantereine High School. She lives in a social housing tower in Sarcelles. This city has the biggest social housing density of the country. View from Koumba’s apartment. From The Rugbywomen © Camilo Leon-Quijano
Koumba prepares for school. Her room is surrounded by posters of the French Female Rugby 7 Team. From The Rugbywomen © Camilo Leon-Quijano
The team has been training together since 2014. In 2016 they were the best newcomer team of France. From The Rugbywomen © Camilo Leon-Quijano
Koumba and Naola warm up before a regional match in Bobigny. That is the way they train before a match. From The Rugbywomen © Camilo Leon-Quijano
For these young women, rugby has been an empowering medium to overcome difficulties and gain confidence. It is also a tool to reverse gender, social and racial stereotypes, and to change the image of young women living in French suburbs. From The Rugbywomen © Camilo Leon-Quijano
Assa, the “capitaine” of the team, receives the trophy of Val d’Oise. Chantereine UNSS (high school team) has been one of the best newcomer teams of the country in 2016-2017. From The Rugbywomen © Camilo Leon-Quijano
Training day in Chantereine High School under the snow. In the background, the social housing buildings of Sarcelles. From The Rugbywomen © Camilo Leon-Quijano
Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.