Blanc apologises as 'quota' row intensifies


INTERNATIONAL NEWS:FRENCH NATIONAL football manager Laurent Blanc apologised and a senior official was suspended at the weekend after further revelations emerged about an alleged plan to limit the number of black and Arab players in youth training schemes.

The French Football Federation (FFF) has been thrown into turmoil by the reports, and Blanc’s future as manager now hinges on the findings of separate inquiries being carried out by the ministry of sport and the federation.

François Blaquart, the FFF’s technical director, was suspended on Saturday after Mediapart, the website that broke the initial claims, published a transcript of a meeting in November in which several high-ranking French officials, including Blaquart and Blanc, discussed introducing quotas for players with dual-nationalities.

Blanc did not deny the accuracy of the transcript and apologised for any offence the reports may have caused. He insisted the media reports had skewed the internal discussion and strongly denied charges of racism, however.

“I admit that certain terms, used during a work meeting on a sensitive and wide-ranging subject, could be interpreted ambiguously if removed from their context and if I hurt anyone’s feelings, I apologise,” the manager said in a statement.

“But to be suspected of racism or xenophobia when I’m against all forms of discrimination, I cannot accept.”

The transcript quoted Blanc said he was “in favour” of a quota on dual-nationality players.

“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.

“That this would have implications, whether medium or long-term, for the profiles of players in training centres is obvious, but there is no link – strictly no link – to a preference for or a rejection of this or that nationality.”

Blanc has previously complained about the number of young players of dual nationality who come though French elite academies only then to switch allegiance to different countries. They include Marouane Chamakh (Morocco), Sebastien Bassong (Cameroon) and Moussa Sow (Senegal).

The transcript also contained quotes from Blanc in which he said France was producing too many players with the same physical attributes, many of whom were black. “You get the impression that we produce the same kind of players: big, strong, powerful ones,” he was quoted as saying. “And who are the big, strong, powerful ones? The blacks. It’s like that. It’s a current fact.”

Federation president Fernand Duchaussoy said the affair, an “unfair and scandalous hotchpotch”, was an attempt to destabilise the organisation. Asked about Blanc’s future as manager, Duchaussoy said he would take measures “or not” after the internal investigation. A separate inquiry ordered by sports minister Chantal Jouanno is expected to be completed by the end of the week.

Pressure has been building on the federation, with Blanc’s former team-mate in the the national team, Lilian Thuram, saying he was shocked and hurt by the reports. “Of course you feel hurt, of course,” Thuram said in a television interview yesterday. “You feel it’s a perpetual (cycle) of always casting doubt on people with regards to their colour and religion.” Thuram and Blanc became national heroes as part of the celebrated “black-blanc-beur” (black-white-north African) side that won the 1998 World Cup. “Some people have short memories,” Thuram added.