French Football Federation Accused of Racism

The French Football Federation (FFF) and the French Sports Ministry concluded this Tuesday that there is no evidence of plans to impose quotas on players who might opt to play for countries other than France.

The conclusion came as a national debate on the binationality of some players and the imposition of quotas to limit Black and Arab players has heated up the French football for nearly two weeks.

The controversy erupted a few days back when the French investigative website, Mediapart, revealed the senior staff members at the FFF had drawn up a quota system attempting to limit the number of black and Arab players in the country’s youth academies. The Website reported comments made by some staff members during a meeting, last November: “For the top brass in French football, the issue is settled: There are too many blacks, too many Arabs and not enough white players in French football.”

The report came as a blow for the French football and the Black and Arab population as well.

The number of players coming through the academies, representing France at youth level and then switching to the senior teams of the countries of their birth, or their fathers’ or grandfathers’ seems posing problems for the FFF.

The national coach, Laurent Blanc denied the issue had even been discussed within the federation. He called the report of clandestine meetings to set quotas on color lines a “lie”.

The revelations had the effect of an earthquake onto the French society and the French Sports Ministry and the federation launched separate and immediate investigations. François Blaquart, the head of national youth coaching policy for the past year, was suspended during the two inquiries.  Though he will keep his job, but he might be sanctioned.

Laurent Blanc, who was also mentioned in the report, was not suspended, however he got into hot water and became suspected of racism.

After leading its own investigation, the Sport Ministry concluded that the French Football Federation didn’t break the law by discussing quotas even if the debate was “regrettable” and “at the edge of being racist,” said the Minister Chantal Jouanno.

On the side of the FFF, the idea of imposing quotas was discussed but “killed at birth”said Patrick Braouezec.

On the binationality issue, the Sports Minister admitted, “I recognize that it’s a real problem, but someone with dual nationality is a full citizen. About a quarter of all French have a link with immigration. We’ve benefited from dual nationality players playing for us.”

Chantal Jouanno underlined that in the 2009-10 season, 24 of 60 players in France’s youth training program opted to play for other countries, including Morocco, Poland, and Algeria.

“Laurent Blanc’s main fault was to have been dragged into a discussion that didn’t involve him,” said on his side Patrick Braouezec. “He is very hurt by the whole affair, and is full of regret and anger, mostly against himself.” he added.

The conclusions of both investigations may end the controversy, however Laurent Blanc, who was appointed as national coach of the French team last year, and was viewed as the savior of a team overburdened by poor performances, has disappointed the young and old generations.

Laurent Blanc, who won the 1998 World Cup with a “Black, Blanc, Beur” team – Black, White, Arab –, has even disappointed his former teammates such as Lilian Thuram, Sidney Govou and Patrick Viera.

Blanc complains that the predominance of black players in France has led to an overly physical style of play. “We’re training with the same prototype of players: big, strong and powerful….And who are big, strong and powerful? The black. God knows that in our training centers they are a lot of them. We need to refocus on other criteria, suited to our own culture.” said Laurent Blanc during of this meeting.

Laurent Blanc’s future will be decided at a May 12 meeting of the FFF’s board. But according to French newspapers, he will keep his job.

                                                                Hajer Naili

Hajer Naili is a NewYork based reporter for Women’s eNews. She has worked for several radio stations and publications in France and North Africa and specializes in Middle East and North Africa.