France great Thuram 'hurt' by racism row

AP, Sunday 1 May 2011

Former France great Lilian Thuram feels 'hurt' that his former teammate Laurent Blanc and members of the French Football Federation may have agreed to limit the number of black and Arab players in national training programs

Lilian Thuram
Former France great Lilian Thuram

French football has been plunged into turmoil after investigative website Mediapart reported that Blanc and senior figures in the federation approved proposals to limit to 30 per cent the number of players of African and North-African descent in training academies once they reach 13 years of age.

"Of course you feel hurt, of course," Thuram said Sunday on French football show Telefoot. "You tell yourself that it's a perpetual (cycle) to always cast doubt on people with regards to their colour and religion." Thuram played alongside Blanc and playmaker Zinedine Zidane in a team that became a national icon after winning the 1998 World Cup and European Championship in 2000, prompting politicians to hail its multi-ethnicity from the rooftops.

"Some people have short memories," Thuram said.

FFF technical director Francois Blaquart has been suspended pending an inquiry into the claims, which included a transcript of a conversation involving Blanc, Blaquart, under-21 coach Erick Mombaerts and under-20 coach Francis Smerecki in November.

Smerecki is the only one quoted as speaking out vehemently against the quota proposals, calling them "discriminatory." French sports minister Chantal Jouanno wants a probe into the allegations to be completed by the end of next week.

"I hope, once again, that we will get some good news ... that all of this was a nightmare and it wasn't true," Thuram said. "I fear that it's true and that we're in the middle of something very serious." Blanc maintains that those present were merely raising the issue of dual nationality that sees players profit from France's training academies before deciding to play for the country of their origin.

"That 26 players out of 30 who go through (the national training academy at) Clairefontaine then join a (different) national team, does that not shock you?" Mombaerts told L'Equipe's website. "We've put together national infrastructures that serve others." Thuram distanced himself from Blanc and Mombaerts by refuting that theory.

"First of all it's a false problem because the best players will be taken on by France. The others, who won't be kept on, will naturally go and play for other countries," Thuram said. "It's the France team which is given priority. The ones who go on to play for another country are the ones France didn't want." Thuram cites the current France team as an example.

"(Karim) Benzema plays for which country? (Samir) Nasri plays for which country?" Thuram added. "So all of this is a false problem from the outset. When you have the wrong idea from the beginning, you end up giving the wrong answer." Jouanno said the dual nationality issue is dangerous because "you then spill over into the issue of people's origins." Thuram, who has campaigned against racism, feels French society still harbours long-standing prejudices.

"When will we emerge from this cycle? When will we escape from these prejudices about skin colour?" Thuram said.

"When will we understand that it's not because you're black that you run faster than someone else? It's not because you're black that you're less intelligent than someone else." The former leader of the far-right National Front party, Jean-Marie Le Pen, shocked many in Europe by reaching the runoff of France's 2002 presidential election on his anti-immigrant, anti-EU platform.

His daughter, Marine Le Pen, has taken over as National Front leader and is expected to run in the next election.

She has also adopted an anti-immigration stance.

Federation President Fernand Duchaussoy, meanwhile, maintained there is no approval of quotas within his organization.

"It's neither our philosophy nor our culture," Duchaussoy said on Telefoot.

Instead, Duchaussoy said, there could be a Machiavellian plot against Blanc within the FFF.

Under Blanc, France has started winning again and - up until last week's allegations - had successfully restored its image in the eyes of fans following last year's World Cup debacle in South Africa under former coach Raymond Domenech.

"You can have doubts about what's happening. You can imagine that because the France team is playing pretty well and (has) restored a certain image," Duchaussoy said.

"Maybe, in a way, there is an attempt to destabilize the France team." But former France midfielder Jean-Michel Larque fears that French football is now mirroring the rise of the far-right.

"Talking about quotas, about (Arabs), about (blacks), about people who take advantage of France to go and wear the jersey of another country," Larque told RMC radio on Sunday. "Football doesn't escape from the Le Pen-isation of society."

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