PARIS – French soccer officials denied accusations of racial discrimination on Friday after a report claimed that the federation agreed to reduce the number of black and Arab players in national training programs.
An angry French federation president Fernand Duchaussoy and national team coach Laurent Blanc said in separate news conferences that such a move was never discussed.
Investigative website Mediapart reported on Thursday that senior staff within the federation, including Blanc, approved proposals to limit to 30 percent the number of players of African and North-African descent once they reach 13 years old.
Speaking in Bordeaux, Blanc called the report "a lie," while Duchaussoy said he's confident an investigation led by the French sports minister and the federation will provide more information.
"Once the investigation will be over, if necessary, we will launch a counterattack on judicial grounds against those who accused us," Duchaussoy said at the federation headquarters.
Mediapart claimed Blanc and FFF technical director Francois Blaquart approved the proposal to limit minority players in training centers and soccer schools and called the move "a genuine segregation applied to football."
"There is no plan to introduce quotas," Blanc said. "It's a lie to say that the France coach was involved."
Fabrice Arfi, one of the journalists who broke the story for Mediapart, maintained the accusations and told L'Equipe TV that Blanc "lied" when he denied any involvement.
"We have irrefutable proofs," Arfi said. "We are not making up."
Blanc admitted he attended a meeting with federation officials last November, but said that the main item on the agenda was to "define a game project and a training program aimed at having the best results in five years."
"For about 15 years, our game project has been discriminatory for some players, because the main criteria were favoring physical qualities," Blanc said. "For now, small players are put at a disadvantage. I want our policy towards those players to be less radical. What bothers me is that color has been added to this and that I have been associated to this. Such a project will never come to life."
Blanc took over from Raymond Domenech after the World Cup. Blanc has often raised the issue of the numerous players with double nationalities, who benefit from French training academies before choosing to play for another country.
"If some people at the federation campaigned for quotas, they need to be punished," Blanc said. "I don't have to defend myself because I'm not guilty. I'm just saying that double nationality is an issue."
Blaquart said the double nationality issue should be tackled to improve the national team's results in big tournaments. France crashed out in the first round at last year's World Cup following an early exit at the European Championships in 2008.
"We are facing a situation which is unique in Europe because almost 45 percent of our young players have a double nationality," Blaquart said. "And among them, about 20 percent decide to play for a country other than France after we trained them. Is it really the federation's role to develop players for other countries?"
Blaquart said the federation is exploring ways to convince those players to play for France and was adamant "no restrictive measures" will be implemented.
According to the Mediapart report, directives aimed at limiting the number of black and Arab players have already been sent to training academies.
"We never sent any directives nor orders," Duchaussoy said. "The investigation will tell us the truth and I'm confident."
Lyon and Marseille, which have been accused by Mediapart of having implemented the alleged directives on their youth teams, denied any wrongdoing.
"Lyon is outraged by this heinous case of intent that has absolutely no grounds. The club has immediately asked its lawyers to explore legal ways to defend its honor after the scorn of its fundamental values," Lyon said in a statement.