French football in turmoil over ‘quotas’ race row
National manager Laurent Blanc taped in meeting to discuss limits on black and Arab players
Less than a year after the disastrous World Cup campaign and player mutiny French football has been thrown into turmoil once again after a tape recording of senior officials, including national manager Laurent Blanc, discussing ways to limit the number of immigrants in the team was leaked to the media.
The conversation between Blanc, two national coaches and the technical director of the French Football Federation, Francois Blaquart, took place last November. The men were heard discussing ways of preventing players with dual nationality - specifically those who were black or Arab - from joining training academies.
The tape was leaked to the website Mediapart, which alleged last week that the FFF had hoped to put a cap of 30 percent on the number of African and North African players attending its camps from the age of 13. The plan was discussed because of concerns about players with dual nationality, like Moroccan striker Marouane Chamakh, who had come though the French system and gone on to represent their homeland at senior level.
But perhaps even more damaging are claims Blanc commented on the physical attributes of black players. He apparently asked: "What is there that is big, strong and powerful? The blacks." He is also accused of saying he wanted to foster players with "our culture, our history".
Talking about World Champions Spain, Mediapart alleges that Blanc said: "They say 'we don't have a problem. We have no blacks'."
Now the whistleblower who made the recording has stepped forward. He is Mohammed Belkacemi, France's national technical advisor for neighbourhood football, who works with young players from ethnic minorities in city estates.
He admitted he secretly taped the meeting because he got wind of the plan and was concerned. He said he wanted to "testify internally about unacceptable things that I had heard".
However, Belkacemi is adamant that he only passed the tape to the FFF, but did not leak it to the media.
Technical direcot Blaquart has been suspended in the wake of the revelations. An investigation has begun and Blaquart, Blanc and the other coaches at the meeting will testify this week. The head of the FFF's ethics council and French sports ministry officials will also be involved. The probe is being led by Patrick Braouezec, who is getting used to interviewing French football officials - he also headed the investigation into the World Cup debacle in South Africa.
Blanc took over the French team after that tournament and has helped restore 'Les Bleus' pride. But his involvement in the meeting will have damaged his standing, particularly as he was a member of the 1998 World Cup winning team alongside the likes of Zinedine Zidane, which was celebrated for its mix of 'blanc, black, beur' [white, black, North African] players.
Former team mates have been lining up to have their say. Basil Boli, a defender who chose to play for France over the Ivory Coast, said: "To have taken part in a meeting to talk about quotas is a scandal. That means it's been thought about and it is impossible to support anyone on that."
Lilian Thuram, who played in 1998 said: "I didn't know that skin pigmentation was what makes one feel French. Does that mean every white person, even Swedish, feels French?" ·
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