Claims that French soccer officials have created quotas on how many black and Arab players can play in youth training programs, as well as in the national French soccer team, have led to a crisis about race in France. After these reports first surfaced on the website Mediapart, the French soccer federation has opened an investigation.
Says the Guardian about the controversy:
“For the top brass in French football, the issue is settled: there are too many blacks, too many Arabs, and not enough white players in French football,” the website [Mediapart] said.
According to Mediapart, one of the most senior football federation figures wanted to set a cap of 30% on players of certain origins, but insisted at a meeting the quota should be kept quiet. At another meeting, the French national team coach Laurent Blanc allegedly backed changing youth talent selection criteria to favour players with “our culture, our history”. Sources claimed Blanc cited current world champions Spain, saying: “The Spanish, they say: ‘We don’t have a problem. We have no blacks.’”
The French government has sought clarification from the soccer federation, which denies setting quotas. But the claims have unearthed a raw nerve about race and culture in France, at a time when, according to polls, the leader of France’s far-right National Front Party, Marine Le Pen, would beat French president Nicolas Sarkozy if the presidential election were held now.
Says the Guardian about an earlier scandal over soccer and the race of the players in France:
The issue hit a raw nerve in France in 1998, where their World Cup victory by a multicultural team led by Zinedine Zidane was hailed as “black, blanc, beur”, and was said to symbolise a new beginning for a mixed nation, but it mainly gave way to great unease and bickering over the racial profile of “Les Bleus”. Not only did the far-right Jean-Marie Le Pen [the father of Marine Le Pen] complain of too many black people in the team, a leading Socialist regional head, the late Georges Frêche, was expelled from his party in 2007 for making the same observation.
Crucially, the French team’s mutiny at the World Cup last summer was privately blamed by some on black or Muslim players, including the French convert to Islam, Franck Ribéry. Speculation was that the team had fragmented over the lack of the football team’s “national identity”.
When Blanc first became coach of the French national team last summer, one of the first changes he made was to stop the team policy of eating only halal meat, a sign of cultural insensitivity towards some of his own players.
In France, counting people according to race or ethnic origin, “even for census purposes or statistics research,” is banned. Henri Guaino, Nicolas Sarkozy’s special advisor, says that he is “viscerally opposed to any form of quota” and that “setting quotas would be the end of the republic.”
Photo of a match between France and Brazil taken on February 9, 2011, in Paris by americanistadechiapas