The crisis over French football chiefs’ alleged plan to keep non-white players out of the national squad has escalated after a senior official admitted blowing the whistle and secretly recording a meeting about race.

French sport has been shaken by claims that football bosses wanted to limit the number of young black players and those of north African origin emerging as candidates for the national team. The secret plan for ethnic quotas allegedly involved limiting non-white youngsters entering the selection process through training centres as early as age 12 or 13. The investigative website Mediapart ran extracts from a transcript of a meeting last year where football bosses wanted to set a cap of 30% on players of certain origins. The site concluded that officials felt there were “too many blacks and Arabs” in French football and not enough whites.

The scandal has revealed a deep malaise over race in football and the notion that “Les Bleus”, despite the multiracial 1998 World Cup winning team, are not patriotic enough unless they have white skin.

Two investigations are under way by the French Football Federation and the government, which expects to announce its findings next Monday. Meanwhile, the national technical director of the federation, Francois Blaquart, has been suspended.

Mohammed Belkacemi, a respected official responsible for liaising with young players in suburbs and highrise housing projects, on Wednesday admitted he was the whistleblower who had recorded the controversial meeting in November 2010 where race quotas were discussed. It is believed he gave the tape to other officials rather than directly to the media.

The French national coach Laurent Blanc first flatly denied any discussion about quotas, then apologised for any offence about “certain terms” he used.

The recordings show officials were debating French players with dual-nationality who could train in France but leave to play for other teams. Several officials suggested limiting these players. Blanc reportedly talks about black players’ morphology. He says of the training centres, which produced French champions such as Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka: “You have the impression that they really train the same prototype of players, big, strong, powerful ... What is there that is currently big, strong, powerful? The blacks.” He said other criteria should be used to bring in players “with our culture, our history”.

The scandal comes after the French team’s mutiny at the World Cup last summer was privately blamed by some on black or Muslim players, suggesting the team had fragmented because there was not enough “national identity”.

The French sports minister, Chantal Jouanno, on Wednesday told French radio that ethnic quotas would be illegal. She said training centres should teach national players how to “respect their team shirt”.

Copyright: Guardian News & Media 2011

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