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France

French coach cleared in football racism row

Video by Oliver FARRY

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-05-10

No legal action will be taken following a probe into allegations that France's national football team coach Laurent Blanc (pictured) and others advocated enforcing racial quotas at youth academies, the sport ministry said on Tuesday.

AP - France’s sports minister cleared national team coach Laurent Blanc of discrimination claims on Tuesday, while criticizing comments made in a meeting discussing possible quotas in football academies as “borderline tending toward racist.”

Chantal Jouanno said no anti-discrimination laws were broken when Blanc and football federation colleagues discussed whether quotas should be introduced to curb training academy access for young French players with dual nationality, many of them black and Arab.

“It emerges very clearly that ways to limit the numbers of so-called dual-national players ... including putting in place quotas were, in fact, debated” at the Nov. 8 French Football Federation meeting of coaches that Blanc attended, she said.

“The subject was raised in a manner both clumsy and clearly uncalled-for, clearly uncalled-for,” Jouanno added. “The general impression that emerges is really very unpleasant, with innuendoes that very often were borderline tending toward racist.”

The FFF’s inquiry later Tuesday also cleared Blanc but reproached him for taking part in a discussion that they insist should never have happened in the first place.

“Laurent Blanc is angry with himself for what he said and can’t believe he made (those comments),” said Patrick Braouezec, the head of French Football Federation’s separately commissioned inquiry.

But while possible quotas were discussed, Jouanno said the idea was subsequently dismissed and they weren’t implemented. For that reason, she said that there are no grounds to start legal proceedings.

“This solution of quotas was discarded,” Jouanno said. “Our evidence does not establish the existence of any system of quotas or plans for discriminatory quotas. ... It is clear that there is no element or bundle of evidence that would allow one to say or to suspect that there was an infringement of the anti-discrimination law. This analysis was confirmed by the Justice Ministry.

“I’m not here to chop off heads,” Jouanno added. “It’s not my role.”

Online news site Mediapart first reported details of the meeting, sparking argument and soul-searching about racism in France, which won the 1998 World Cup with a multiracial team. Blanc played on that side. Former teammates Lilian Thuram and Patrick Vieira were among Blanc’s critics in the wake of Mediapart’s revelations. But others including Zinedine Zidane supported him.

The sports ministry and the FFF both launched inquiries into the affair. The FFF was to release its findings later on Tuesday.

Jouanno defended Blanc, saying it was the first time that the coach had been to this type of FFF meeting.

“He wasn’t the organizer. He wasn’t the pilot,” she said.

She said the 1998 World Cup winner was very surprised to learn at the meeting that many youths who could play for France end up playing for other countries. She said that Blanc has proved in his career that he does not discriminate.

“No fact shows that Laurent Blanc approves of discriminatory positions,” Jouanno said.

According to Mediapart’s transcript, Blanc told the meeting “it bothers me enormously” when players who represented France at youth level later “go to play in North African or African teams.”

“That has to be limited,” Mediapart quoted Blanc as saying.

But Jouanno said in Blanc’s defense that he also told the meeting: “If there are only blacks in the training centers and these blacks are French and want to play in the France team that is all fine by me.”

The minister also said that French youth coaches face “a real problem” of how to keep dual-nationality players.

From 2009-10, 24 of 60 young French players who got training from the football federation chose to play for a country other than France, she said. Two youth team players even refused a call-up to the national squad, which is “totally unacceptable,” she said.

Changes to FIFA regulations in 2009 making it easier for players to represent other countries have accentuated the problem and “destabilized” France’s youth team, she added.

“So the problem is real but one of the responses that was envisaged - implementing quotas - is totally, totally illegal,” she said. “It is totally unthinkable.”

The minister said it is for the FFF to decide whether to fire technical director Francois Blaquart. According to Mediapart’s transcript, he suggested at the meeting that an unspoken “sort of quota” could be introduced.

Jouanno said Blaquart’s words “are regrettable. He himself acknowledged that.”
However, she added that the probe found no evidence to show that he holds “a racist or discriminatory philosophy.”

Braouezec, who had already headed a commission examining the reasons for the France team’s strike at last year’s World Cup, said that there is “no element to hand that can show that a quota (system) was put into place” or officially planned within French football.

“This criteria was not put into place when looking for young players at the start of 2011,” Braouezec said.

But Braouezec lambasted the fact that any such meeting could take place, and reiterated that there should never be any criteria for youth players regarding color as “the only criteria for a 12-year-old is his sporting ability.”

He added the French football federation’s mode of governance is “completely shattered” and must be addressed quickly.

Braouezec also made it clear that he considers any debate about dual nationals redundant because “first of all, they (the players) are French, not dual nationals” until the moment they may choose to represent another country.
 

Date created : 2011-05-10

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