Flags and vexillology are still generally considered the territory of nerds and recluses by the general public. And yet they can inspire such strong emotions, especially when it comes to major sporting or political themes. Originally inspired by the Flag Institute’s World Cup of Flags, which followed the competing teams at the FIFA World Cup, the Société Française de Vexillologie’s French Cup of Flags was an original twist on this concept, bringing French regional flags to the wider public in a fresh and entertaining manner.
The French Cup of Flags took place in the autumn of 2018 in celebration of World Vexillology Day (1st October), pitching over 64 French civic flags against each other in one-on-one matches to decide the ultimate French flag. The society gathered up current and historical flags of French regions (disqualifying SOB and logo flags), many of which play a prominent role in local day-to-day life and can be seen proudly displayed. The event also presented the society with a great opportunity to introduce to the public the little-known flags of several of the newly created administrative regions.
“Seal on a bedsheet”, vexillological jargon for a flag depicting a logo or seal in a unicoloured field, often considered by the vexillological community to be a design flaw. Most prominently known in relation to flags in the USA but not unheard of in other parts of the world.
The preliminaries of the cup, called “Barrages”, both helped select which flag should represent regions with more than one flag in use (official, unofficial, historical etc.) but also explored the vexillological diversity of France and the various political and historical narratives present throughout the regions. Thus, we saw the snake flag of Martinique square off (and win) against its independence counterpart while the Provencal fleur-de-lis flag suffered a defeat at the hands of the official striped banner.
On commence par les barrages. Plusieurs #drapeaux se font concurrence sur un même territoire pour diverses raisons. À vous de choisir lequel aura la chance d'intégrer le tableau général des matchs. Celui qui recevra le plus de voix sera sélectionné. #CoupeSFV #Vexillologie pic.twitter.com/SFuJXxsco7— Société Française de Vexillologie 🇫🇷 (@DrapeauxSFV) October 1, 2018
The cup itself was accompanied by high emotions as Twitter users and local media sought to lobby support for their own regional flags when each pair was presented to the public for voting. “The ‘Big Four’ (Britany, Corsica, Provence and Occitanie) were disposed as favourite but to our surprise, some of them were quickly eliminated from the competition” commented Nasha Gagnebin of the Société Française de Vexillologie. Indeed, the whole cup seemed to be full of neck-to-neck matches and surprise upsets. “By the end, we saw flags that weren’t that much popular in other parts of France becoming suddenly loved and promoted” he adds, mentioning the flag of St. Pierre and Miquelon, a curious combination of the Basque, Breton and Norman flags, used unofficially in the French overseas collectivity. St. Pierre and Miquelon knocked out several strong contenders in the cup including the simple flag of Limousin or the famous flag of Lorraine. Another strong candidate for the crown, Normandy, held strong until the semifinal on the 8th November, where it was defeated by the new and striking flag of Bourgogne, Franche-Comté.
But perhaps the greatest shock was the victor itself as Nice, an unexpected and relatively unknown flag, skyrocketed to the finals, knocking out one big-shot after another. It trampled the heraldic flag of Dauphiné into the dust before making easy work of the famous Breton ermine flag. Rolling over the black lion of Flanders, it won against the aforementioned St. Pierre and Miquelon, defeating Alsace in the semifinals. In a final crushing victory, it bested Bourgogne, Franche-Comté with a shocking 71% of the vote.
Aujourd'hui, Grande Finale ! (Match 64): #BourgogneFrancheComté contre #ComtéDeNice. N'oubliez pas de valider votre vote en cliquant le bouton adéquat dans le tweet ci-dessous, jusqu'à environ demain midi: Tweetez et Retweetez, likez et partagez ! #CoupeSFV🏆#Vexillologie pic.twitter.com/TGPYSWnNRa— Société Française de Vexillologie 🇫🇷 (@DrapeauxSFV) November 10, 2018
While the flag may have been helped to its crown by the mass voting of supporters of the local OCG Nice football club, nevertheless, to quote Mr. Gebnebin, “the aim was to promote French flags used or still in use to show that proper flags existed in France, to make us known a bit more to the media […] and to make us known to the people promoting this way the term “vexillology” in France and in francophone areas”. And judging by the vast interest displayed by both ordinary Twitter users and various media, which the French Cup of Flags gained over the months, it definitely succeeded on that level. It is exactly this initiative, which is required of vexillological societies around the world, to bring the field into the public eye. After all, as was mentioned at the beginning of this article, vexillologists have at their disposal a powerful tool which catches the hearts of the public and induces significant emotions: flags.