French football chiefs were accused Thursday of using secret quotas to limit the number of black and Arab players in training programmes. French national team coach Laurent Blanc denies allegations that he supported the quotas.
French investigative website Médiapart published a report Thursday that claimed to reveal a system of racial discrimination against young football players in national training programmes. Citing sources from within the French Football Federation (FFF), the website reported that academies had been asked to recruit no more than 30 percent of their players over the age of 12 or 13 from among blacks or Arabs.
Médiapart, which became famous for leaking evidence concerning the Woerth-Bettencourt L’Oreal heiress scandal in 2010, says that its journalists were made aware of the alleged quota by “internal sources at the FFF [who are] scandalised by the process”.
Médiapart says that “numerous” sources told them of a meeting of the FFF’s National Development Programme (DTN) on 8 November 2010, when the secret quota was proposed. According to the same sources, French national team coach Laurent Blanc responded favourably to the proposition, citing Les Bleus’ Spanish counterparts – the current world champions – as a team “that doesn’t have any problems and doesn’t have any blacks”.
According to Médiapart’s report, the proposal was approved in early 2011 and instructions have already been sent to training academies and schools, notably the French national centre at Clairefontaine.
The president of the FFF, Fernand Duchaussoy, immediately denied the allegations, saying he had “never heard anything about it” and that “it would be totally abnormal for that to be going on”, in an interview with AFP on Thursday.
Coach Blanc also denied the claims in a message via Les Bleus’ chief press officer, Philippe Tournon. In an interview with FRANCE 24 on Thursday evening, Tournon said that Blanc had rejected the “odious and racist” suggestions, insisting that “this idea of quotas holds no water at all”.
Prayer mats and Halal off the menu
According to Médiapart, this is not the first time players of foreign origin have been discriminated against. The website reports that, in 1997, young North African players had their bags searched by DTN officials, allegedly to check that they were not carrying prayer mats. It also reported accounts of DTN officials referring to Muslim players as Islamists or Saracens.
André Merelle, former head of the French national training centre at Clairefontaine, said on Thursday that the DTN had tried to reduce the number of players of African descent in the early 1990s. “There was no official quota policy at the time," he told RDC French sports radio. “But a reflection about the numbers of blacks and Arabs. According to [DTN officials] … there were too many.”
Former Marseille president Pape Diouf, who is black, told RDC on Thursday that he was not surprised about the allegations. “The truth is the following,” he said: “French football is a reflection of [French] society. French football is racist.”
Blanc has already been accused of courting controversy since taking on the role of French national coach last summer. One of the first things he did as boss was to ban Halal meat from players’ meals.
He has often and openly complained of dual nationality players who choose to play for another country after being trained in France.
Spokesman Tournon attempted to shift the focus onto this issue when defending Blanc in an interview with AFP on Thursday. “One of the problems evoked by Laurent Blanc is the double nationality issue, namely when players who benefit from a three-year stint in a French national training centre then go abroad and play for other teams," he said. "But to reduce that to an article headlined ‘There are too many blacks and Arabs’ is simply unbelievable. And it's not going to sit well with Blanc.”
France's minister of sport, Chantal Jouanno, demanded answers “without delay” from the FFF in a statement on Thursday, saying that she acknowledged the federation’s denial but that they must “very quickly shed light on the article's allegations”.
Médiapart, meanwhile, claims to have irrefutable evidence to back its allegations that it says it will reveal in the coming days.