A race-related controversy is simmering in France over the composition of its football (soccer) clubs.
The country’s sports minister Chantal Jouanno, has asked French Football Federation (FFF) to explain reports that clubs have had a secret racial quota on teams in order to limit the number of black and Arab players.
The French investigative news website Mediapart first broke the allegations of a secret race quota on soccer clubs. Reportedly, senior FFF members set a limit of 30 percent for the number of black and Arab trainees on youth clubs starting from the age of 12 or 13.
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, Mediapart claimed.
According to internal sources at the FFF, who have been shocked by the proposals, instructions were sent to the different managers of training schools, notably the National French Institute at Clairefontaine.”
Mediapart also claimed that prominent FFF members, including Laurent Blanc, the national coach, and FFF technical director Francois Blaquart approved the quota.
A genuine segregation applied to football, the report said.
Top French national club players like Lilian Thuram and Thierry Henry are black.
Jouanno said: Discrimination has no place in sport, whether it's in the stands or in the training academies.
The federation has denied that it ever had such a policy.
Philippe Tournon, media officer for the French national team, said Blanc is outraged by the allegations.
Laurent Blanc rejects these accusations which run contrary to his whole philosophy, Tournon told media.
Laurent Blanc is outraged that he has been accused in this way, since he rejects any kind of discrimination. He would never agree to such measures.
FFF president Fernand Duchaussoy told reporters that he was surprised by the report.
I've never heard of these proposals and to be honest it would astound me if I did,” he said. It wouldn't be right, and in any case I wouldn't allow it to happen. You need to ask Francois Blaquart, Duchaussoy said. There was a discussion during the federal council last week and we never spoke about this. It's shocking.
In response, the sports minister said: I take note of the French Football Federation's denial about the existence of such a policy and I invite it to very quickly shed light on the allegations in the article.
However, since he took over the national club, Blanc has often complained about how so many of his players have dual nationalities – they receive the benefits of France’s excellent training academies, and then choose to play for another country.
Tournon himself commented: 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. 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 Laurent Blanc.
Andre Merelle, a former boss of the French National Football training centre at Clairefontaine, said that the soccer federation did indeed seek to reduce the number of African players.
It was under [French football manager] Gerard Houllier's helm, Merelle told France's RMC Radio. There was no official quota policy at the time, but a reflection about the numbers of black and Arabs. According to them, and that includes Francois Blaquart, there were too many.
While France’s 1998 multi-ethnic World Cup championship team was a source of national unity and pride, the club’s dismal performance in last year’s tournament in South Africa raised racial issues again – there were rumors that the black players on the French club intentionally sabotaged the team.
Pape Diouf, the former president of French football club Olympique Marseille (who is of Senegalese descent) said French soccer is riddled with institutionalized racism.
I don't know if [the quota rumors] are true, but I am not surprised by the revelations, Diouf told RMC radio.
The truth is the following: French football is a reflection of [French] society. French football is racist, it excludes.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.