A disastrous World Cup campaign in South Africa which included player revolts and walkouts left French football in disarray. Since then the French Football Federation replaced the unpopular Raymond Domenech with Laurent Blanc. Things have improved dramatically since the World Cup winner took over. There has been an influx of young French talent to the squad and players such as Samir Nasri and Karim Benzema, who were overlooked for the tournament have come back into the fold. France are currently top of their European Championship qualifying group and took the scalp of England at Wembley recently. Just when things were starting to look rosy for our friends from across the Channel, the French media is awash with revelations of racist remarks from Laurent Blanc, casting his future as manager into doubt.
There have been huge efforts from world football governing bodies to implement various campaigns into football to help fight the ugly side of the beautiful game. So for this latest scandal to come to light from what is one of the most multicultural nations in the world is not only a disgrace, but a step backwards. The comments from Blanc came from a meeting in November where he and French Football Federation technical director François Blaquart, Under-21 coach Erick Mombaerts and Under-20 coach Francis Smerecki were discussing recruitment of French youngsters. The contentious comments arose when discussing the best way to develop young French players – should they go for the strong athletic players, or the technical players? Blanc was championing the latter but his words were poorly chosen, Blanc is alleged to have said, “The Spaniards, they don’t have a problem because they don’t have any blacks’ or ‘What is there that is big, strong, powerful? The blacks.” This comes from the recording leaked by French football official Mohammed Belkacemi to Mediapart.
This scandal has an immediate impact on French football, but also has a worldwide impact on football in general. It shows that after everything that has been done over the years to stamp racism out of the game, it still persists. There are also claims that restricting the number of black and North African players that can enter French academies was discussed, something which Blanc strongly denies. The worrying thing from this allegation is that it shows there is still a long way to go in the fight against racism if it’s present within National football federations. What hope is there to completely eradicate racism from the terraces, when it’s prevalent in board rooms of major sporting nations? I don’t actually believe Laurent Blanc is a racist, however his comments show a lack of intelligence if he feels talking in such a manner is acceptable.
Unfortunately I think racism is something that will continue to mar football, sometimes no matter how much effort is put into campaigns to remove it from the game, you can’t change the mindset of certain people. What’s worrying is that if a scandal like this is coming out of a multinational nation such as France, what is potentially going on in Eastern European countries where racism still rears its head regularly? It was only a few months ago that Lokomotiv Moscow fans celebrated Peter Odemwingie’s sale to West Brom with a banner showing a banana and the message: “Thanks West Brom”.
The allegations in France are just another example that kicking racism out of football is a never ending task. Luckily in our country racist incidents are few and far between, although there are still isolated incidents, so it’s something that continually needs addressing in the sport of football.