Abidal: France players angry with sports minister
France players don’t want anything to do with the country’s
sports minister who publicly criticized the team for staying at a
lavish hotel, defender Eric Abidal said before the team visited a
France is staying at a resort in Knysna, overlooking the Indian
Ocean. Sports minister Rama Yade previously said this lacked
“decency” during an economic crisis.
Hundreds of residents cheered and screamed when the France team
bus arrived at the Dam se Bos township in Knysna for the renovation
of a football pitch. Yade visited about an hour after the players
A mixture of Danish players and politicians went together when
they visited the same township last week.
“Maybe the Danes get on really well with the authorities, but
that’s not our case,” Abidal said. “You have to take that into
Abidal added that “we’re not going there to see Rama Yade, but
the mayor, the children – to see how they live and to enrich our
culture” and that there are outside factors which “come and spoil
our squad, but we block them out.”
Yade played down the rift, but gave no suggestion there would be
an immediate reconciliation.
“I’m not here to stir up controversy. I’m here to set up a
humanitarian (aid) program,” Yade said. “I don’t know if I will
see them. They are professional players who are preparing (for a
Wearing white team tracksuits and slapping hands with residents,
the France squad looked relaxed and coach Raymond Domenech enjoyed
a brief respite after a drab 0-0 draw against Uruguay on Friday in
Some residents huddled under huts to get some shelter from the
teeming rain, while others slid down muddy grass banks to get a
closer glimpse of the players as they walked down a small hill to
stand near the football pitch.
France captain Patrice Evra smiled broadly as one fan sprinted
up to the Manchester United defender and jumped into his arms.
“I support Manchester,” the supporter screamed.
Thierry Henry patiently posed for photos to cries of “Henry,
Henry!” and others like Florent Malouda and Djibril Cisse signed
autographs and were visibly moved by the occasion, forgetting the
tight security cordon around them.
“It’s touching, but it’s still sad,” Evra said. “It makes you
realize how privileged you are.”
Malouda praised the initiative, but sounded a note of caution
when he said “it’s the day after which counts. What will happen
when we’re gone.”
The players handed out a variety of souvenirs, including pens,
notepads and national team jerseys.
“The community can actually see the players in person,” said
Knysna’s mayor, Eleanore Bouw-Spies. “I think that’s wonderful for
them. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”
Several players wandered off to be mobbed by fans. Evra and
Malouda, in particular, seemed keen to spend as much time as
“I will keep the memories. It’s nice for me,” resident Viwe
Another, Mkoro Mazale, asked why Henry is not in Domenech’s
“There’s only one Thierry Henry! Experience! He has the know
how,” Mazale said.
Domenech has not spoken about Yade’s comments, but Abidal says
the players’ discontent was made clear to her.
“We spoke about it among ourselves and I think it got back to
Rama Yade,” Abidal said. “The squad isn’t happy.”
Yade told Radio J before the World Cup started that
“personally, I wouldn’t have chosen this hotel,” and she “urged
football authorities to show decency” because of the economic
downturn and noted that Spain’s team is staying at a university
campus – even though Spain’s bonuses are considerably higher than
France’s if the team wins the tournament.
“If France goes far, the choice of a site with the best
training conditions could seem wise,” Yade said, but if not then
football authorities “will have to explain themselves.”
The French football federation will donate ?100,000 ($120,100)
for the renovation of a football pitch in Dam se Bos and more money
could be invested over the next three years.
France’s next Group A match is against Mexico on Thursday in