News / Europe

French Football Federation Accused of Racism

Journalists film outside the French soccer federation headquarters in Paris, May 6, 2011
Journalists film outside the French soccer federation headquarters in Paris, May 6, 2011
Lisa Bryant

France's national soccer federation has been rocked by allegations of racism, with reports its top brass wanted to introduce quotas for ethnic-African and Arab players in its training academies. The results of two investigations into the matter are due out this week.

The allegations have been leveled by the online investigative publication Mediapart, which reported senior members of the French Football Federation wanted to limit the number of young soccer players of Arab and African descent in its training academies. Mediapart released an apparent transcript of a November meeting by French officials in which the quota idea was discussed.

The results of inquiries by the Football Federation and France's sports ministry are due out this week. French soccer team coach Laurent Blanc, who denies the accusations, was questioned and the technical director has been suspended.

The executive director of French anti-discrimination group SOS Racisme, Guilaume Aime, says he is not surprised by the allegations.

"We have seen quite a few cases and we have litigation against the French soccer federation on another case, which is that they have refused kids who cannot prove that their parents have lived five years regularly in France," said Aime.

Mediapart's claims have unleashed strong emotions in the French soccer world.  Former soccer star Zinnedine Zidane, the son of Algerian refugees, argues coach Blanc is no racist.  That sentiment was echoed by French Sports Minister Chantal Jouanno, who is expected to announce the results of the ministry's probe on Tuesday.

In broadcast remarks, Joanno said she had never heard Blanc make a racist statement, and she pointed to the multi-racial composition of the French soccer team.

But another former French soccer star, Lilian Thuram from Guadeloupe, expressed concern.

Thuram told TF1 television he feared the allegations of discrimination within the soccer federation could be true. If so, it was very serious.

The allegations are a blow for a national soccer team that was once a symbol of a multi-racial and united France in 1998, when it won the World Cup.

The issue also comes at a particularly sensitive time in France, following controversial national debates over diversity and Muslims.  And a year before presidential elections, recent polls show surging support for the leader of the far-right National Front Party.

"We have had many political actions, which stigmatized huge parts of the French population, and soccer looks like society itself," says SOS Racism's Guillaume Aime.

But Aime believes the majority of French are very upset about the racism allegations in French soccer and, if they are proved true, will demand change.

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