Monday, May 2, 2011

France's racial quota system, unraveled

It was alleged recently by the website Mediapart that some high-up officials within the France national football setup investigated capping the number of "ethnic" players allowed places in national Youth training schemes. This cap, it has been suggested, would enable more white players to progress to the France international team. According to The Guardian, the French football federation is investigating reports that management approved a 30% quota of black players and youngsters north African heritage; harking back to the days of ultra right-wing leaders criticising the racial composition of Les Bleus.

Race in the French national football setup has been more of an issue since the 1998 World Cup Champion French side was accused of being "too black". Such bigoted messages have cropped up irregularly since then but an undercurrent of dissatisfaction remains across national youth lines as several high-profile graudates of French academies now play for other nations - players such as Arsenal centre-forward Marouane Chamakh and Tottenham's centre-back Sebastien Bassong.

While France manager Laurent Blanc (among others) has strenuously denied these allegations, he too is implicated. He recently said the comments were taken out of context and his focus in the reported meetings was to deter youth-system graduates from representing other countries. Blanc, a member of the '98 World Cup Champs, when taking over from Raymond Domenech was charged first with uniting a fractious dressing room which imploded publicly imploded during the 2010 World Cup. Among the most high-profile dissidents in that incident were Patrice Evra, Nicolas Anelka and Franck Ribéry - two black players and a French-born convert to Islam - further fuelling slanderous gossip that the non-white element were the chief troublemakers. This manifested horribly in comments attributed to Blanc that Spain had no problems because they had no black players.

As always, blinkered thinking of this type deserves all the ridicule it receives. It is also, according to French law, illegal and unconstitutional: to even ask a person's religion or ethnicity for the purposes of statistics is an offence. Whether a player is born in Senegal (Patrick Vieira), has Algerian parents (Zinedine Zidane) or is born in Boulogne but converts to Islam (Ribéry) has no bearing on this abiilty to play football. Therefore, any prejudice against these elements is repugnant and petty.

To suggest capping so-called "ethnic involvement" is also eventually self-defeating. To examine such a principle in purely sporting terms, fans appreciate and flock to teams who are either successful or those who play attractive football, thereby supporting them financially. Decreasing results leads to a decreasing fan-base: just ask Paul Roos or the Melbourne Victory. The old adage states that "Success breeds success" and with sport, it administered correctly, the adage is correct: success leads to money, more fan involvement and youth development.

By withdrawing, say, 70% of those of north African heritage or black players from the 1998 World Champions leads perhaps to neither Zinedine Zidane, Marcel Desailly, Lilian Thuram, Christian Karembeu or Patrick Vieira playing for Les Bleus. Only Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet, Bernard Diomede and Bernard Lama remain in the '98 squad. Do you really see France triumphing over Brazil - or even making the second round - without such players? Do the same with Australia's 2006 World Cup squad and watch Australia fail again in the playoff against Uruguay, if even they made it that far.

Ask any football fan if they would prefer a fictitious mediocre uniracial team or an excellent club with players of varying ethic extraction. In 99.5% of cases or more, they'll choose the one that wins most. Although the global situation has improved somewhat from the dark ages of racism, isolated incidents prove that we, as a sporting public, still have a long way to come. Discrimination on the basis of heritage - as well as sexuality, religion or other reasons - has no place in sport. Should Blanc and other nameless faces within FFF be found complicit with such bigotry, they should be removed.

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