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French football investigates discimination report

French football officials strongly denied accusations of racial discrimination on Friday after a report claimed that the federation agreed to reduce the number of black and Arab players in national training programs.

AP, Friday 29 Apr 2011
French Football Federation president Fernand Duchaussoy
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An angry French federation president Fernand Duchaussoy and national team coach Laurent Blanc told separate news conferences that such a move was never discussed.

Investigative website Mediapart reported on Thursday that senior figures within the federation including Blanc approved proposals to limit to 30 percent the number of players of African and North-African descent once they reach 13 years of age.

Speaking in Bordeaux, Blanc called the report "a lie" while Duchaussoy said he's confident an investigation led by the French sports minister and the federation will shed light on the matter.

"Once the investigation will be over, if necessary we will launch a counterattack on judicial grounds against those who accused us," Duchaussoy said at the federation headquarters.

Mediapart claimed both Blanc and FFF technical director Francois Blaquart approved the proposal to limit minority players in training centers and football schools and called the move "a genuine segregation applied to football." "There is no plan to introduce quotas," Blanc said.

"It's a lie to say that the France coach was involved." Fabrice Arfi, one of the journalists who broke the story for Mediapart, maintained the accusations and told L'Equipe TV that Blanc "lied" when he denied any involvement.

"We have irrefutable proof," Arfi said. "We are not making-up." Blanc however admitted he attended a meeting with federation officials last November but said that the main item on the agenda was to "define a game project and a training program aimed at having the best results in five years."

"For about 15 years, our game project has been discriminatory for some players, because the main criteria were favoring physical qualities," Blanc said.

"For now, small players are put at a disadvantage. I want our policy towards those players to be less radical. What bothers me is that color has been added to this and that I have been associated to this. Such a project will never come to life." Since he took over from Raymond Domenech after the World Cup, Blanc has often raised the problem of the numerous players with double nationalities, who benefit from French training academies before choosing to play for another country.

"If some people at the federation campaigned for quotas, they need to be punished," Blanc said. "I don't have to defend myself because I'm not guilty. I'm just saying that double nationality is an issue." Blaquart also said the double nationality issue should be tackled in order to improve the national team's results in big tournaments. France crashed out in the first round at last year's World Cup following an early exit at the European Championships in 2008.

"We are facing a situation which is unique in Europe because almost 45 percent of our young players have a double nationality," Blaquart said. "And among them, about 20 percent decide to play for a country other than France after we trained them. Is it really the federation's role to develop players for other countries?" Blaquart said the federation is now exploring ways to convince those players to play for France and was adamant "no restrictive measures" will be implemented.

According to the Mediapart report, directives aimed at limiting the number of black and Arab players have already been sent to training academies.

"We never sent any directives nor orders," Duchaussoy said. "The investigation will tell us the truth and I'm confident." Lyon and Marseille, which have been accused by Mediapart of having implemented the alleged directives in their youth teams, denied any wrongdoing.

"Lyon is outraged by this heinous case of intent that has absolutely no grounds. The club has immediately asked its lawyers to explore legal ways to defend its honor after the scorn of its fundamental values," Lyon said in a statement.

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