France FA begins inquiry into racism row over quotas

The French Football Federation has begun its inquiry into claims that national team coach Laurent Blanc and other coaches secretly agreed on a quota restricting the number of black and Arab players in national training programs.

Investigative website Mediapart published explosive claims last week that proposals were envisaged to limit to 30 percent the number of players of African and North-African descent in training academies once they reach the age of 13.

FFF technical director Francois Blaquart is suspended pending the inquiry, which included a transcript of a conversation involving Blanc, Blaquart, under-21 coach Erick Mombaerts and under-20 coach Francis Smerecki in November.

In the transcript, an outraged Smerecki is quoted as speaking out angrily against the proposal, calling it a ”discriminatory” idea that should never see the light of day. He has not yet commented on Mediapart’s article.

The focus of the conversation was to find a way to limit the number of players with dual nationalities coming through the French youth teams before then deciding to play for their country of origin as adults.

All four of them will be interviewed this week by a special commission headed by Patrick Braouezec, who had already led an inquiry examining the reasons for the France team’s strike at last year’s World Cup. Laurent Davenas, the president of the FFF’s ethics council, and a member of the French sports ministry will also be involved in the inquiry.

The quotas row comes just as Blanc was beginning to turn the team’s fortunes around following the World Cup debacle, where – under former coach Raymond Domenech – the squad went on strike in protest at Nicolas Anelka’s exclusion and was eliminated in the group stage without winning a match.

French sports minister Chantal Jouanno urgently requested that the FFF open an inquiry just hours after Mediapart’s story broke last Thursday night, and Jouanno wants it to be completed by the end of this week.

The conclusions will then be discussed further at an FFF federal council meeting next week, the federation said in a statement Tuesday, adding that it would make no further comment until then.

Former France great Lilian Thuram, Blanc’s teammate when France won the 1998 World Cup and European Championship two years later, said he was shocked when he heard that race quotas had been discussed. Former France defenders Basile Boli and Luc Sonor, and former France goalkeeper Bernard Lama, have also expressed their outrage in recent days.

Others, like France midfielder Alou Diarra and striker Karim Benzema have publicly backed Blanc, although both said they upset at the very thought of quotas being discussed.

Diarra, who has been France’s captain several times under Blanc, said late Monday on RMC radio that he hopes Blanc does not resign over the affair.