France football race row: coach Laurent Blanc cleared

Chantal Jouanno: "No document has shown that a racist or discriminatory philosophy has been cultivated"

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French national football coach Laurent Blanc has been cleared by the country's sports minister of race discrimination.

Chantal Jouanno said there was no evidence that Blanc had broken any laws, by discussing putting a quota on the number of black and Arab players representing French youth teams.

Blanc has said his comments were taken out of context.

He and others had been discussing how to prevent French-trained players deciding to play for other countries.

Ms Jouanno said the future of the national technical director, Francois Blaquart, who was suspended after the revelations, would be decided by the French Football Federation (FFF).

It is due to release its own findings later in the day.

The affair has plunged the French Football Federation (FFF) into controversy less than a year after Laurent Blanc was brought in to sort out the national team, after its embarrassing performance at last year's World Cup.

Investigative website Mediapart claimed that Blaquart proposed secretly limiting the proportion of black and north African players to 30% at certain regional youth training centres, including the renowned Clairefontaine facility.

Blanc is alleged to have agreed with the plan in order to promote players with "our culture, our history".

Analysis

Only barely emerging from the embarrassment at last year's World Cup in South Africa, France's football federation has found itself embroiled in another row, this time over racism.

The issue under discussion was the high number of players going through the excellent French national training system who play for French national teams at junior level and then defect to other national teams, many in Africa, at senior level.

At the World Cup, for example, there were nine players on other sides who had previously played for France. This is the tendency that the federation wants to limit.

But by letting discussion at this meeting run into broader stereotypes, about big physical black players versus small skilful white ones, it strayed into very dangerous territory.

The pair, along with under-21 coach Erick Mombaerts and under-20 coach Francis Smerecki, had been holding a debate over young players with dual nationality being trained in the French national system but later deciding to play for other countries.

However, "there is nothing leading to say that Laurent Blanc is backing discriminatory practices", Ms Jouanno told a news conference on Tuesday.

"Laurent Blanc was attending this kind of meeting for the very first time. He did not have any project, no fixed opinion."

"There is nothing to suggest that Laurent Blanc condones discriminatory guidelines."

She said the coaches' discussion last November was "clumsy and clearly uncalled for".

But the quotas idea was only discussed and never implemented, and so there was no reason to start legal proceedings.

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