Abidal: France players angry with sports minister

Abidal: France players angry with sports minister

Published Jun. 13, 2010 4:29 p.m. ET

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.