Abidal hits out at French junior minister

KNYSNA - France's World Cup players snubbed French sports junior minister Rama Yade on Sunday, ending a township visit before she had arrived.

Defender Eric Adidal had said before the visit that the team were not interested in meeting Yade, a week after she said the team's hotel in South Africa was too flash.

"Whether she's there or not makes no difference," Abidal told reporters. "We're not going there to meet Rama Yade but to see the mayor, the children, to see how they live and to become more familiar with their culture."

A few hours later the players paid a short visit to the Dam Se Bos township in Knysna, their World Cup base in Western Cape, and left before Yade arrived there to announce a programme to renovate a pitch and form coaches.

Yade stirred controversy last week by criticising the French Football Federation (FFF) for choosing a luxury resort as the squad's residence.

The Denmark team, also staying at Knysna, had already organised a township visit, accompanied by Danish officials.

"The Danes may get on well with their authorities but for us, it's not the case," Abidal said.

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France, whose popularity at home has hit a low after a string of uninspired performances, are staying at the Pezula Resort, a select hotel on the scenic Western Cape coastline.

"Personally I would not have chosen that hotel," Yade told a French radio station last week. "I had asked football authorities to show decency. In times of crisis, you need to think about it.

"If the team's results do not meet our expectations, the (French Football) Federation will have to account for this," she added.

Asked on Sunday about Abidal's comments, Yade said: "I'm not here to stir controversy but to launch a humanitarian programme. I have no problems with the France team. My message to the players is that I fully support the team, just like everybody in France."

Some of the France players looked clearly moved when they visited the township, followed by excited children blowing their vuvuzelas, some barefoot in the mud on a rainy afternoon.

"I hope this will bring hope," midfielder Florent Malouda said while signing autographs. "Those are memories that will stay with us for ever, and with them."

The local youth team received France kits and sported them proudly but could not play with them straight away. A match scheduled to take place on the township's pitch was called off because it was flooded.

France, who needed a controversial playoff win over Ireland to book a place at the finals, kicked off their campaign with a 0-0 draw with Uruguay at Cape Town on Friday. They will next face Mexico and South Africa in Group A.

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