Racism Scandal in French Football: The Downfall of L'Equipe Tricolore


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To create multicultural societies which offer home and shelter to people no matter what their ethnicity or religious beliefs are is one of the big goals and challenges nowadays. The 12th of July 1998 at around 11 pm all this seemed possible: in the football World Cup Final the big underdog France had beaten Brazil with 3-0. Lead by Zinedine Zidane, son of Algerian parents and widely regarded as one of the best football players of all time, and the multicultural French team had dethroned the football gods from South America.

Everything seemed possible for La Grande Nation, both on and off the football pitch. Almost thirteen years later an unbelievable case of racism shatters French football and stands as a synonym for a divided country.

Of all people Laurant Blanc, one of the pillars of the 1998 Equipe Tricolore and current French national coach, has become a protagonist in the scandal: furious about the disappointing performance of the team in 2010’s World Cup in South Africa, the French Football Federation and Blanc made plans to restore the footballistic glory of the country.

How? By making it more difficult for black and Arab players at the young ages of 12 or 13 to access youth national teams and football academies. By that the federation thought that they could prevent black and Arab kids from becoming professional football players. According to the website Mediapart, the goal was to reduce the amount of players from certain origins to 30%. It was agreed on, that the measures should remain top secret.

It is hard to believe and scary at the same time, that an idea of similar stupidity is the product of the top functionaries of one of the oldest and most professional federations in football gathering to find a solution for the current crisis in French football. The scandal comes in a complicated time in which France has been in the headlines one time too often for questionable (others would say outrageous) behaviour towards immigrants and freedom of religion.

Lilian Thuram, born in Guadaloupe, member of the French World Cup winner team and UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, could only hardly find words when asked about the case: ”Initially I thought this was a joke. I'm so stunned I don't know what to say." There is not much left of the spirit of 1998, not in football and not in the country, it appears. The hope is once again on others, younger generations, to make a difference, search for intercultural dialogue, be tolerant and open-minded and eventually make the world a better place.

Photo © UNICEF/HTIA2010-00611/Marco Dormino Haiti, 2010 UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Lilian Thuram speaks with children at the Jean Marie Vincent Camp in Port au Prince.

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