FFF technical director suspended in racism row
PARIS, April 30 (Reuters) -- French football was plunged into turmoil again when the national federation's (FFF) technical director Francois Blaquart was suspended on Saturday amid a row over an alleged project to enforce racial quotas in youth academies.
Less than a year after the World Cup fiasco, France coach Laurent Blanc, who took over from Raymond Domenech after the embarrassing South Africa episode, was also caught up in the controversy.
"Sports Minister Chantal Jouanno and FFF president Fernand Duchaussoy have decided to suspend immediately national technical director Francois Blaquart pending the conclusions of an investigation led by the FFF and the IGJS (General Inspection of Youth and Sports)," Jouanno said in a statement.
The statement said the investigation was expected to be completed within eight days.
On Thursday, French investigative website Mediapart (www.mediapart.fr), citing sources within the FFF, said Blaquart proposed to enforce racial quotas to limit the number of players of black or Arab origin in youth academies.
On Saturday, Mediapart published a verbatim report of a meeting at which Blanc, Blaquart, under-21 coach Erick Mombaerts and under-20 coach Francis Smerecki, among others, had a debate over African players with dual nationality groomed in France eventually opting to play for their country of origin.
France team media officer Philippe Tournon told Reuters on Saturday: "It was a debate on players with dual nationality. Causes and effects are being confused here.
"There is no official comment now but I'm in contact with Laurent Blanc and the federation and there could be some reaction in the afternoon."
Blanc, who won the 1998 World Cup with a team dubbed 'Black-Blanc-Beur' (Blacks, Whites and Arabs) by French media, has often raised the issue of dual nationality players.
He denied, however, being in favour of quotas in youth academies.
"No such project has been revealed to me. It's a lie," Blanc told a news conference in Bordeaux on Friday.
"You cannot have quotas in football. It does not exist. Football is made of diversity."
FFF president Fernand Duchaussoy on Friday also denied there were 'instructions, orders' to limit the number of black and Arab players in the youth academies.
"What happened in a meeting, behind a door or in the corridors...I cannot vouch for everyone working at the federation but I am confident (that there was no wrongdoing)," he said.
France's World Cup campaign ended in turmoil last year after the players went on strike in support of forward Nicolas Anelka, who had been thrown off the squad for insulting Domenech. In the aftermath of France's first-round exit, Anelka was banned for 18 matches and three other players were sanctioned.
France has been facing a re-emergence of far-right ideas, with National Front possible presidential candidate Marine Le Pen soaring in recent opinion polls.
The French presidential election will be held next year amid heated debates on immigration.