Race Scandal Shatters Myth of Integrated French Team

Peggy Hollinger, Financial Times (London), May 6 2011

Is French football racist? The front page of Friday’s Libération newspaper asked the question that has tormented the whole country this week. French football is in crisis after revelations that the sport’s managing officials have considered unofficial–and illegal–quotas to limit the number of young black and Arab hopefuls in French training academies. Secret recordings published by the investigative website Mediapart revealed that Laurent Blanc, France’s respected team manager, appeared to concur with measures to bar non-white players with dual nationality, who could go on to play for other countries after having been trained with French public funds.

The controversy comes at a sensitive time in France, when questions of race and nationality are in the spotlight as the extreme right and anti-immigration National Front appears to be making big electoral gains. President Nicolas Sarkozy has deliberately taken his party further to the right in a bid to stem defections to the National Front ahead of a presidential election next spring.

The revelations have increased unease over these tactics. The scandal proved that “the arguments of the National Front have ended up invading all spheres of public debate and today are taking over French football”, said François Asensi, parliamentarian from the largely immigrant Parisian suburb of Seine Saint Denis.

Blanc, who was a member of the multi-ethnic team that brought home the World Cup in 1998, is heard making controversial comments on the tape about the choice of players.

“You have the impression that we only produce one kind of player: big, strong and fast. . . . Who are the big strong and fast players? The blacks,” he is heard saying.

In the recording, Blanc insists he is not racist and the discussion appears to have begun with a debate on the skills of power versus technique in France’s team. But his comments appear to reinforce racial stereotypes by suggesting black players are limited to power and speed. “The Spanish tell me, “we don’t have this problem. We don’t have any blacks”, Blanc says on the tape.

The controversy has shattered one of the most powerful myths of modern sporting history. When France won the 1998 World Cup, the team was hailed as a powerful symbol of successful integration, bringing together “white black and Arab”. The casual comments by a well-liked manager, and the suggestion by France’s sporting officials that non-white players pose a problem, reveal that this was only ever a myth, says Patrick Mignon, sociologist with Insep, a sports institute.

“Football became a mascot that allowed us to speak of society’s problems through the success or failure of the team,” he says. This week those same team members who symbolised social integration have broken the sport’s unspoken code to openly criticise the federation and denounce nascent racism.

Guadeloupe-born Lilian Thuram, Blanc’s team-mate in 1998, has called for sanctions.

The government has launched an investigation, alongside an inquiry by the French football federation, which is due to report next week. But few believe Blanc will be sacked, unless there are more revelations. Though at first he denied the comments, Blanc apologised after the tapes were published. Chantal Jouanno, sports minister, has defended him, though she said he might have made inappropriate comments. Blanc is well-liked, and even Thuram has said he does not believe him to be a racist.

Topics:

Share This

We welcome comments that add information or perspective, and we encourage polite debate. If you log in with a social media account, your comment should appear immediately. If you prefer to remain anonymous, you may comment as a guest, using a name and an e-mail address of convenience. Your comment will be moderated.
  • Bernie

    The French soccer federation is racist. They think blacks are better athletes so they put out teams that are about 70% black (very few Arabs play on the national team).

    Then they lose to teams that are 100% white (like Italy and Spain) and wonder why they can’t win.

    With this, look for the squad to get even more black.

  • bryan boru

    The three best players in Europe right now.Rooney,Ronaldo and Messi.They are all white.

  • BannerRWB

    Multiculturalism in sports will, in the future, be seen as the precursor that progressed to multiculturalism on a national scale (Think Jackie Robinson, 1947, to Brown vs. Board of Education, 1954, to overall desegregation to multiculturalism). The end result is a change from one culture to another, with multiculturalism being a mid-point of the change. Eventually, the original culture is marginalized or replaced altogether. This French soccer coach understands the score, as do the French in general; in the long run, this is going to be a hard lesson for the White world.

  • sbuffalonative

    “The controversy comes at a sensitive time in France, when questions of race and nationality are in the spotlight as the extreme right and anti-immigration National Front appears to be making big electoral gains.”

    The great fear of the liberal left; that people will see the truth and act on it.

    They have the Nation Front and football officials seeing the same problem and taking action to correct the problem.

    The left can’t tolerate people knowing that others see the same problems and have the same fears. It might spur them to action.

  • Zarathurstra

    It’s always argued that diversity is a strength, but what about the strength of homogeneity? If you look at sides that have done well in previous World cups and European cups, you can see the patterns. I am particularly referring here to small nations who punch above their weight, such as the danish european champions of the 1992 EC, the Koreans of the 02 WC and the swedes of the 90’s. All of those sides had players of decent ability, though nothing flash, but they had a cohesiveness and deep understanding of each other that no amount of skill can ever replace. An unbreakable collective identity- the strength of homogeneity.

  • Physiologist

    “The French soccer federation is racist. They think blacks are better athletes so they put out teams that are about 70% black (very few Arabs play on the national team). Then they lose to teams that are 100% white (like Italy and Spain) and wonder why they can’t win. With this, look for the squad to get even more black.”

    The blacks-are-better-athletes mythology actually looks quite funny, when contrasted with hard facts. Undernourished West African males are namely only ca. 170 cm tall on average – with the exception of some urban and pastoral populations approaching 175 cm – , and I would really wonder, if West Africans living in West Europe are taller than 178 cm, which is the mean height of their US cousins (barely a moderate height by current European standards). People are often fooled by their “athletic” look, but this is a mere illusion resulting from thinner layers of subcutaneous fat on the frontal part of the body. Do you recall any black weightlifter, after all?

    As for football (soccer), the physiology of this game corresponds to the 400-1500 m running range, with strikers having a similar ratio of fast-twitch fibers like 400 m runners, defenders resembling anaerobic types of 800 m runners and midfielders resembling milers. Since West Africans traditionally excel only in the 100-400 m, it is clear that their physiology doesn’t fit much ideally into this game.

    Not a long time ago, I checked game records at the World Cup 2010, and all West African teams were in the bottom half of 32 participating teams as for kms run per game, number of sprints per game and, surprisingly, even in the average top speed of their players. The French team was only marginally better in these stats. It is true that Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana had some of the fastest players on the tournament, but their overall conditioning level was otherwise very poor. So much to their “superior athleticism”.

  • Sylvie

    Talk about a non-issue’ here people!

    If this is an issue in France; then the French people need to stop watching the television and get a brain and a life!

  • Anonymous

    7 — Sylvie wrote at 6:52 AM on May 10:

    Talk about a non-issue’ here people!

    If this is an issue in France; then the French people need to stop watching the television and get a brain and a life!

    Tell that to American Whites also! They are just as bad. I HATE seeing any White man/woman cheering on “their” team when it consists of mostly NONWHITES! That includes “college” teams. If White fans had a soul left they would boycott ALL sports and demand WHITE only teams. But we all know who owns and manages al those teams, don’t we?

  • Anonymous

    This is a business issue. The FFF don’t want to spend years and hundreds of thousands of euros training young Blacks and North Africans only for them to then go and make themselves available play for their parents country’s. Hence the proposed cap at 30%

    Having said that its rare for the better players to choose to play for a their parents country rather than France.

  • ciccio

    You certainly have the wrong end of the stick here. France has superb training for young footballers and the coach was pissed off that too many of them went through the training and promptly went to play against France. Half the Algerian and Moroccan teams were trained by the French, the players only stayed long enough to finish training.

  • Anonymous

    Soccer is a tactical sort and requires great endurance, both traits of which blacks lack for the most part.

  • Anonymous

    The soccer team is the advance guard of the France of tomorrow. The future is grim.

    Here’s more bad news: in the World Cup Finals in 2010, 17 out the squad of 23 players in the Algerian team were born in France and qualified to play for Algeria because of double nationality:

    http://tinyurl.com/Algerian-team-born-in-France

    And you can see here how France cheated their way to the World Cup Finals in 2010, which deservedly ended in ignominy and shame for them:

    http://tinyurl.com/French-cheat-Ireland

    But on a happy note to finish, even readers who do not like soccer will appreciate this fine goalfrom the all-white Scottish team in 2008:

    http://tinyurl.com/Scotland-goal-against-France

  • OCCAM

    Physiologist,

    Laurent Blanc, the French coach has closely observed players of all ethnic and racial groups all of his professional life. he says that the black players–from Africa and the Caribbean–are bigger, stronger and faster. he has observed this empirically both as a player and coach.

    The French league is practically black with some North Africans[usually black-white phenotype] and the best team in the English Premier league in 2010 was Chelsea which also came second in 2011. Chelsea is predominantly African. The greatest player in the game ever–based purely on statistics is Pele, strictly West African in phenotype and body structure.

    The best striker in the German League is a West African and the best defenders in the English league are

    African.