French federation back Blanc in racism row

PARIS - France coach Laurent Blanc has kept his job after being cleared of wrongdoing by an investigation into a discrimination row that has shaken French football, the football federation (FFF) said on Thursday.

"The federal council renews its entire confidence in Laurent Blanc," FFF president Fernand Duchaussoy told a news conference at the federation's headquarters.

Blanc attended a meeting in November at which members of the federation discussed the idea of enforcing limits on black and Arab players in youth academies.

The meeting was originally meant to discuss the large number of players in France with dual nationality who eventually choose to play for their country of origin.

"The federal council has taken note that no discrimination was ever put in place," Duchaussoy added.

A twin inquiry by the Sports Ministry and the FFF found no evidence that racial discrimination, which is illegal in France, had been enforced.

However, national technical director Francois Blaquart, who had been suspended pending the findings of the twin inquiry, could now face further action including dismissal.

"The federal council asks (the president, the general director) to study the possibility of starting disciplinary proceedings against employees who failed in their duty," Duchaussoy said.

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FFF general director Alain Resplendy-Bernard explained the federation was not at liberty to unveil the names of those targeted by the possible proceedings.

In the November 8 meeting, Blaquart, Blanc, Under-20 coach Francis Smerecki and Under-21 coach Eric Mombaerts discussed the case of players with dual nationality within the youth academies.

Blaquart used the word 'quotas' in the meeting but Blanc has said he also made comments which could "offend some sensibilities."

The meeting, whose content was leaked by French investigative website Mediapart before being confirmed by the twin inquiry, also saw Mombaerts favouring the idea of quotas with Smerecki strongly opposed to the idea.

Sports minister Chantal Jouanno on Thursday urged Duchaussoy to set up an independent watchdog to monitor racism and discrimination.

The watchdog would "investigate, study and analyse all forms of discrimination within French football."

Blanc had been slammed by former team-mates from the multicultural 1998 World Cup-winning France side but others such as then captain Didier Deschamps and influential French great Zinedine Zidane have backed the coach to stay on.

Race and immigration are hot topics in France as the far right National Front party has been soaring in recent opinion polls less than a year before the presidential election.