Sports minister clears French soccer coach Blanc of racism charge

Inquiry finds no evidence national football manager supported discriminatory 'racial quotas' guidelines for team selection based on skin colour.

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MARSEILLE // The French national football manager Laurent Blanc, a hero of his country's winning 1998 World Cup campaign, escaped punishment yesterday in the scandal over disclosures that officials discussed racial quotas for young players.

Blanc has apologised for "clumsy" remarks made during a meeting last November that considered limiting the number of black and Arab schoolboy players admitted to national training centres.

The least suspicion of racial policy-making at the heart of French sport was enough to highlight once again France's difficulties in assimilating immigrants and their descendants with roots in the former colonies of North and sub-Saharan Africa.

But the French sports minister, Chantal Jouanno, said an inquiry by her department had cleared Blanc of wrongdoing. The French Football Federation (FFF) announced it had separately found no evidence of discriminatory measures being pursued.

Minimising the manager's role, Ms Jouanno said Blanc was neither "organiser nor pilot" of the discussion.

Unlike other participants at the meeting, a secret recording of which was made available to the investigative news website Mediapart, he offered no opinions on quotas.

There was no evidence to suggest he supported discriminatory guidelines.

However, the minister strongly criticised the manner in which the FFF meeting of coaches had debated the issue of players with dual nationality and considered quotas.

"The subject was raised in a manner both clumsy and clearly uncalled-for … the general impression that emerges is really very unpleasant, with innuendoes that very often were borderline tending toward racist," she said.

The inquiry by her inspectors found no infringements to anti-discrimination law. "I'm not here to chop off heads," Ms Jouanno added. "It's not my role."

Mediapart was given a recording of the November 8 meeting by a disgruntled FFF official. Blanc was heard to say: "It bothers me greatly when players who have represented France at youth level go on to play for North African or African teams. A line must be drawn."

But Ms Jouanno said the manager also stated: "If there are only blacks in the training centres and these blacks are French and want to play in the France team that is all fine by me."

She said it was for the FFF to decide whether to dismiss its technical director, François Blacquart. He was suspended after the recording showed he suggested an unspoken "sort of quota" could be introduced.

Ms Jouanno said Mr Blaquart, who is a prominent member of an antiracist sports association, acknowledged his words were regrettable. Nevertheless, there was no evidence to demonstrate "a racist or discriminatory philosophy".

Blanc risked losing not only his job but the credibility he commands as a member of the "black-blanc-beur" (black-white-Arab) World Cup squad that proudly represented France and its ethnic mix. He missed the final through suspension but was crucial to French progress through the earlier rounds.

With additional reporting by the Associated Press