French launch inquiry into allegations of racial quota

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The Independent Football

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

The investigative website Mediapart published claims last week that proposals were envisaged to limit to 30 per cent the number of players of African and North African descent in training academies once they reach the age of 13.

The FFF technical director, François Blaquart, has been suspended pending the inquiry, which will examine the transcript of a conversation involving Blanc, Blaquart, the Under-21 coach, Erick Mombaerts, and the 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 participants will be interviewed this week by a special commission headed by Patrick Braouezec, who has 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 has begun to turn the team's fortunes around following their failure at the 2010 World Cup, where, under former coach Raymond Domenech, the squad went on strike in protest at forward Nicolas Anelka's exclusion and was eliminated in the group stage without winning a match.

The French Sports Minister, Chantal Jouanno, requested that the FFF open an inquiry just hours after Mediapart's story broke last Thursday night, and wants the investigation 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 yesterday, adding that it would make no further comment until then.

The former France player Lilian Thuram, Blanc's team-mate 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. Others, like the France midfielder Alou Diarra and striker Karim Benzema have backed Blanc, although both said they were upset at the very thought of quotas being discussed.