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

township Sunday.

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

had gone.

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

consideration.”

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

match).”

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

Cape Town.

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

possible there.

“I will keep the memories. It’s nice for me,” resident Viwe

Magushana said.

Another, Mkoro Mazale, asked why Henry is not in Domenech’s

starting team.

“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

Polokwane.