Too many African & North-African players in French national football team …?

It is no secret that for quite a few years now (at least ten, but probably more) the French have been saying amongst themselves that France’s football team is no longer representative of the country. What they mean is that the players are not born and bred French. In other words they are not ‘white-skinned’ […]

Black and white ball ...

It is no secret that for quite a few years now (at least ten, but probably more) the French have been saying amongst themselves that France’s football team is no longer representative of the country.

What they mean is that the players are not born and bred French.

In other words they are not ‘white-skinned’ Messieurs Du Ponts.

There are strict anti-racists laws in this country, so no one had dared say that out loud. Or no, I have to correct this: Jean-Marie le Pen, then leader of the nationalistic Front Nationale, did and there was uproar. (He is now retired and his daughter Marine le Pen is the new leader, and as the front runner in our presidential election scheduled for May next year, 2012.)

But times change …

Having been beloved by all at the time France won the Football World Cup (July 1998 here in Paris), the players have been far from even liked lately because of their poor performance and general unprofessional behavior during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Therefore, what has been ignored in the good days – the origins or color of the skin of the players – is now being openly debated.

And it seems that the debate had been started by none other than the FFR, French Football Federation at a meeting last November (2010).

This revelation appeared on the French investigative website Mediapart three days ago, citing sources within the FFR.

According to Mediapart word has gone to France’s football academies and training centers to enforce racial quotas.  The FFR’s National Technical Director, François Blaquart, had apparently asked that the number of players of African and North-African (Arab) descent or nationality should be limited to 30%.

Despite hurried explanations that what the FFR had said was that youths should not be selected for football teams just because they were physically big, Sports Minister Chantal Jouanno suspended Monsieur Blaquart as National Technical Director.

Yesterday (Saturday, April 30) Mediapart had further revelations which mean that France’s coach, Laurent Blanc also now has a problem. (Blanc was appointed after the South African fiasco.) Mediapart claimed that he, the under-22 coach, Erick Mombaerts, and the under-20 coach, Francis Smerecki, had also raised the issue within the FFR of African players with dual nationality who had been groomed in France but who then went to play for their country of origin. Money and time had been wasted on them therefore.

Blaquart and Blanc have now been trying to explain what they’d said, meant, had done and had not done.

Blaquart, who had apparently made it clear in the FFR that the quota system should never be made public, told the Paris-based Radio Monte Carlo (RMC): “I cannot not acknowledge these remarks. But they have to be put in their context. We acknowledged the fact that there were many players with dual nationality … we had to control the management of these players who might be leaving us. There is nothing more to it.”

Blanc, who was one of the beloved 1998 World Cup victors, acknowledged that he has always had concern about players with dual nationality leaving to play for the country of their origin, but he said that he had never agreed with a quota system based on race. He told the media: “No such project has been revealed to me. It’s a lie. You cannot have quotas in football. It does not exist. Football is made of diversity. It really bothers me because it’s against my values. To me, this is totally false.”

But on Saturday night he added: “I do not withdraw what I said yesterday. I admit that some remarks made during a work meeting, taken out of their context, may be misinterpreted and, as far as I am concerned, I apologize if I have hurt some feelings. But I, who am against any form of discrimination, do not stand being accused of racism or xenophobia.”

The 1998 team was not pure French either: With a fair share of African and North-African players, it was dubbed (lovingly so, I must point out) Black-Blanc-Beur – Black, White, Arab. Beur is a colloquial term for French-born youths whose parents were immigrants from North Africa. It derives from the French word arabe; it had become a-r-beu, then beu-ra-a and then finally beur. It is not a derogatory term. Neither is it derogatory to call someone born in Black Africa or whose parents were immigrants from Africa, a black; it is in fact preferable to calling such a person un noir.

The sports ministry is to investigate the quota issue and if necessary will take legal action against anyone who could be guilty of racial prejudice. The FFF is undertaking its own investigation.

Meanwhile,  Black-Blanc-Beur, whatever, the French team’s performance is still far from satisfactory.


Marilyn Z. Tomlins

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