French debate rages on despite FIFA threat
PARIS (Reuters) -- A threat by FIFA on Tuesday to ban France's national and club teams from international competition if the government did not stay out of soccer affairs failed to stop political debate over France's World Cup debacle.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter warned that soccer's governing body would suspend the French Football Federation (FFF) if France's politicians interfered in its business.
If France were suspended, the country would be banned from international tournaments and French clubs could not take part in European competitions.
The threat came as a National Assembly spokeswoman said coach Raymond Domenech, whose contract ended after the finals, and FFF president Jean-Pierre Escalettes, who has quit his post, would appear at a parliamentary commission on Wednesday.
Escalettes resigned on Monday in the wake of France's disastrous showing in South Africa, saying the decision was his own, but French Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot had said last week his resignation was "unavoidable".
The commission has no power to take any sanctions but the move certainly further irritated Blatter, who spelt out he would not tolerate the French government or president getting involved in the running of soccer.
"In France they have made an 'affaire d'Etat' with football, but football remains in the hands of the federation," Blatter said at a press briefing on Tuesday.
"French football can rely on FIFA in case of political interference even if it is at presidential level, it is a clear message," he added. "We will help the national association and if cannot be solved by consultation then the only thing we have is to suspend the federation."
FIFA briefly suspended Greece in 2006, and has threatened action against the football associations of Poland, Portugal and Spain in recent years because of government interference.
France's World Cup group stage exit, marred by the players' decision to boycott a training session in support of expelled striker Nicolas Anelka, has sparked a passionate debate in the country, with senior politicians getting involved.
Such was the national angst that President Nicolas Sarkozy urged a soccer shakeup and met former team captain Thierry Henry.
French Olympic Committee (CNOSF) president Denis Masseglia made it clear, however, that The FFF, not politicians, should oversee the necessary wholesale review.
"We must agree on the principles we have to follow but its up to soccer people to decide what's good for their sport," Masseglia told Reuters.
With a new team coach and soon a new chief, French soccer is attempting a fresh start which was the only option after their catastrophic World Cup campaign.
Domenech, whose traumatic six-year tenure ended with France's elimination, will now make way for Laurent Blanc, a prominent member of France's 1998 World Cup-winning squad.
Escalettes has left the picture too, paying the price for France's bad behaviour at the World Cup but also for supporting Domenech in spite of the Euro 2008 flop.
The FFF president will officially resign at a council meeting on Friday in Paris at which Blanc should be presented with a two-year contract and the mission to qualify the team for the 2012 European Championship in Poland and Ukraine.
Blanc, nicknamed "the President" for his calm authority in his playing days, needs to rebuild a team who looked lost on the pitch at the World Cup and shocked fans by refusing to train.
Escalettes should be replaced at first by a caretaker president before elections scheduled for September. The favorite to succeed him is senior FFF official Jacques Lambert, who masterminded France's successful bid to host Euro 2016.