The crisis over French football chiefs’ alleged plan to keep non-white players out of the national squad has escalated after a senior official admitted that he secretly recorded the meeting which discussed the issue of race.
French sport has been hit by claims that France’s football hierarchy wanted to limit the number of young black players and those of north African origin coming through the country’s Clairefontaine football academy.
The secret plan for ethnic quotas allegedly involved limiting non-white youngsters entering the selection process through training centres as early as age 12 or 13. The website Mediapart published extracts from a transcript of a meeting last year where high-ranking officials wanted to set a cap of 30% on players of certain origins. The site concluded that officials felt there were “too many blacks and Arabs” in French football.
Two investigations are under way by the French Football Federation and the government, which expects to announce its findings on Monday. Meanwhile, the national technical director of the federation, Francois Blaquart, has been suspended, while there are suggestions that national team coach Laurent Blanc will be axed for his involvement in the talks.
Mohammed Belkacemi, an official responsible for liaising with young players in suburbs and highrise estates, has admitted he was the whistleblower who had recorded the controversial meeting in November 2010 where race quotas were discussed.
The French national coach Laurent Blanc first flatly denied any discussion about quotas, then apologised for any offence about “certain terms” he used.
The recordings show officials were debating French players with dual-nationality who could come through the French but leave to play for other countries.
‘Big, strong powerful…’
Blanc is said to have attended the meeting in which this decision was made, and reportedly said: “The Spanish, they say, ‘We don’t have a problem. We have no blacks’.”
Blanc also reportedly talked about black players’ physiology.
He said: “You have the impression that they really train the same prototype of players, big, strong, powerful … What is there that is currently big, strong, powerful? The blacks.” He said other criteria should be used to bring in players “with our culture, our history”.
Blanc did not deny the veracity of the transcript, in which he said he was “very much in favour” of a quota, but said that his words had been twisted.
“It would be in bad faith not to see that the debate in which I participated was not about ‘reducing the number of blacks and Arabs in French football,’ as the sensational title of the article suggested, but about planning the future of French football and addressing the important and delicate problem of players with dual-nationalities, as well as methods of scouting/selection for a new playing project,” he said.
The scandal comes after the French team’s mutiny at the World Cup last summer was privately blamed by some on black or Muslim players, suggesting the team had disintegrated because they lacked “national identity”.
Black French players expressed their disgust at alleged ethnic quotas.
Lilian Thuram, the former World Cup defender, scorned the notion black players might not be patriotic enough.
“I’m black, well dark brown to be precise, and I feel perfectly French,” he said. But I didn’t know that skin pigmentation was what makes one feel French. Does that mean every white person, even Swedish, feels French?”
Senegalese-born French footballer Patrick Vieira joined in the criticism of Blanc.
“When I read that he (Blanc) said ‘the Spanish say: We don’t have a problem. We don’t have blacks,’ or ‘who are the big, strong, powerful ones? The blacks’, it’s scandalous! These are serious comments,” he said.
“I know Laurent Blanc, I’ve always had a good relationship with him. I don’t think he’s racist but I’m surprised by the degree of his comments.
“You can say what you like, but no one was tricked in that meeting. Nobody was forced to make these comments, and still they said them, it’s a fact: it’s shocking.”