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French football rocked by yet another racism row

Mehdi Fedouach, AFP / Bordeaux coach Willy Sagnol stands next to Malian forward Cheick Diabate during a training session on Nov. 4, 2014

Willy Sagnol’s comments on African football players have landed the Bordeaux coach in hot water as French football grapples with yet another racism row.

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The former France international made headlines earlier this week when he appeared to suggest African players lacked intelligence and discipline in an interview with a local newspaper.

Sagnol told Sud Ouest daily [link in French]: "The advantage of the typical African player is that he is not expensive when you take him, he's generally ready to fight and he is powerful on the pitch. But football is not just that, it's also technique, intelligence, discipline."

The former Monaco and Bayern Munich full-back said a good team needed "Nordics” as well.

“Nordics are good. They have a good mentality,” he said. “A football team is a mixture, it's like life, it's like France. You have defenders, attackers, midfielders, fast ones, big ones, small ones and technical ones."

Sagnol said the scheduling of the Africa Cup of Nations, which is due to begin in January, put him off signing players from the continent.

"As long as I remain coach of Bordeaux there will be far fewer African players coming to Girondins de Bordeaux,” he explained, “because I don't fancy seeing 12 players clearing off for two months every two years."

Bordeaux have several African stars in their squad, including captain Lamine Sane of Senegal, Gabon midfielder Andre Biyogo Poko, Tunisia winger Wahbi Khazri and Malian duo Cheick Diabate and Abdou Traore.

Thuram 'surprised' and 'disappointed'

The club’s president, Jean-Louis Triaud, has stood by his coach, denouncing the “malicious” interpretation of Sagnol’s remarks.

But others were less forgiving.

Sagnol was swiftly rebuked by his former teammate Lilian Thuram, France's most-capped player, who was born in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe in the Caribbean.

Thuram, who is now a leading anti-racism campaigner, told radio station Europe 1 he was "surprised" and “disappointed" by the remarks.

"Unfortunately there is always prejudice about people coming from Africa, black people. We always talk about their strength and never their intelligence,” he said. “These comments only back-up such prejudice.

"I think that [Sagnol] must have played alongside players of African origin whether at international or club level and might have noticed that there were intelligent, disciplined players who were very good tactically," added the former France captain.

SOS Racisme, a French anti-racism watchdog, denounced Sagnol for "crassly associating 'Blacks' and 'Nordics' with being physical and intelligent respectively."

It called on the French Football Federation (FFF), the French League (LFP) and the government to "take immediate and appropriate action", adding that it was "studying the possibility of filing a complaint in the coming days".

France’s ruling Socialist Party joined in with the chorus of condemnation, calling for “appropriate sanctions” as well as a “public apology”.

‘Boycott French league’

Critics included Pape Diouf, the Senegalese-born former president of Olympique Marseille, who penned a scathing op-ed in French daily Le Monde [link in French].

Diouf slammed Bordeaux managers for standing by their coach, as well as “the exonerating comments of Sport Minister Thierry Braillard”, who described Sagnol’s comments as “mere clumsiness”.

The former Marseille boss said he doubted Sagnol would incur any sanctions, urging African players to boycott France’s Ligue 1 championship instead.

Sagnol's comments have drawn comparisons with the controversy surrounding then-France coach Laurent Blanc in April 2011.

At the time, investigative website Mediapart claimed Blanc was involved in discussions to bring in quotas on the number of black and Arab players representing French youth teams.

The former World Cup-winning defender was cleared of discrimination charges following an inquiry by the French government.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)
 

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