French 'quota' findings expected

Government and football federation investigating comments by national team coach Laurent Blanc on dual-nation players.

    Blanc said the language he had used was 'ambiguous' [GALLO/GETTY]

    French football chiefs are expected to release findings on Tuesday from their investigation into 'racial quota' comments from national coach Laurent Blanc and other top trainers.

    The inquiries examined allegations that Blanc and football federation colleagues discussed whether to curb training academy access for young French players of dual nationality, many of them black and Arab.

    The allegations sparked controversy and anguish in the country that won the 1998 World Cup with a multi-racial team, including Blanc.

    Sports Minister Chantal Jouanno and the football federation (FFF) are holding news conferences on Tuesday. French media say Blanc may also speak.

    Jouanno has said that discriminatory quotas targeting dual-national players would be "totally illegal" if they were put in place.

    Investigations were ordered after news site Mediapart reported that Blanc, FFF technical director Francois Blaquart, under-21 coach Erick Mombaerts and under-20 coach Francis Smerecki talked at a November meeting about how to deal with young dual-nationality French footballers who could go on to play for countries other than France.

    "(The debate) was obviously not aimed at reducing the number of blacks and Arabs in French football"

    Laurent Blanc, French national football coach

    According to Mediapart's transcript, Blaquart suggested that an unspoken "sort of quota" could be introduced to limit their numbers in training academies.

    Blanc was quoted as saying that "it bothers me enormously" when players who represented France at youth level later "go to play in North African or African teams."

    "That has to be limited," Mediapart quoted Blanc as saying.

    The two inquiries are examining the coaches' reported comments.

    Blanc was thought be their last witness.

    The former Bordeaux coach travelled on Monday from Bordeaux to Paris to speak at the hearing, said a sports official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to discuss the inquiries.

    Secret location

    The location of Blanc's hearing was kept secret.

    Jouanno has defended Blanc, saying he is not a racist. She also has said he is "devastated" and "very demoralised" by the controversy.

    Malouda: 'Blanc doesn't need our support' [EPA]

    Many leading French football personalities also have spoken up for Blanc, including his World Cup 1998 teammate Zinedine Zidane, who is of Algerian heritage.

    He told sports newspaper L'Equipe that Blanc is not a racist and should keep his job.

    Blanc acknowledged that some of the language used at the meeting was "ambiguous" and said he apologised "if I have  offended some people's sensibilities."

    He also said the debate "was obviously not aimed at reducing the number of blacks and Arabs in French football."

    Le Parisien newspaper on Monday quoted Blaquart as saying that their discussion was never meant to become public but also expressing regret at his choice of words.

    He is suspended pending the conclusions of the probes.

    "I'm now aware that even thinking about this idea was an error," the paper quoted him as saying.

    "The France team remains and will remain open to everyone."

    Former striker Christophe Dugarry and midfielder Didier Deschamps have firmly supported Blanc, while ex-defender Lilian Thuram, forward Youri Djorkaeff, and Manchester City midfielder Patrick Vieira have been more critical.

    Few of the current French squad have spoken.

    "I don't think he needs my support or the support of the players," Chelsea winger Florent Malouda told RMC radio.

    "His standing is very good in France and he will have people to defend him."

    The FFF's inquiry was led by Patrick Braouezec, who had already headed a commission examining the reasons for the France team's strike at last year's World Cup, and Laurent Davenas, president of the federation's ethics council.



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