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France and the quota system

In 2011 French football was engulfed in controversy when it was reported that the country’s Football Federation had approved a quota system to limit the number of black players and those of North African origin being eligible to play for the national team.

It was alleged that a plan was in place to limit the number of non-white youngsters enter into the selection process via academies and training centres.

One official was quoted as saying “there are too many blacks, too many Arabs, and not enough white players in French football”.

Reports then emerged of meetings in which one of the most senior football federation figures wanted to see a cap of 30% placed on players from certain backgrounds, whilst the French national team manager at the time, Laurent Blanc, is alleged to have supported a change to the youth selection process to favour players with “our culture, our history”.

Blanc is also reputed to have said that Spain didn’t face the same problem, because they didn’t have “any blacks”.

And also, this came just 11 years after France had won the World Cup on home soil with a  multi-cultural team led by Zinedine Zidane, who is of Algerian origin, and scored two goals in the final against Brazil.

That side was hailed as “black, blanc, beur” reflecting its multi-ethnicity mix of black, white, and Arab players, and, at the time, some hoped it would point the way forward for a divided nation, although there was some unease about the squad’s composition from both sides of the political spectrum.

Jean Marie Le Pen, the far right leader complained about too many black players in the team, whilst  leading Socialist politician Georges Frêche was expelled from his party for similar comments.

The multi-ethnic nature of the team was also blamed by some for the events surrounding the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 when a large portion of the team had gone on strike and refused to train after manager Raymond Domenech had sent Nicholas Anelka home after a training ground row. Critics contended that the blacks and the Arabs from the banlieues (suburbs) were dragging the national team down.

When the story broke, Blanc initially denied any wrongdoing, arguing that he had heard no mention of a quota system being introduced. He was forced to backtrack and apologise though after the full transcript of the meeting at which the matter as discussed was published.

Blanc kept his job but was forced to participate in the subsequent French Football Federation’s investigation, However, technical director François Blaquart, one of the original architects of the scheme was suspended

The row exposed deep fissures in both French society and football about racism. Winning the World Cup again in Russia in 2018 helped to smooth over the cracks, but the  matter has by no means gone away completely.

One of the reasons that Karim Benzema, arguably one of the best French strikers of the modern era, has not played for the national team since 2015 has been blamed, by some on his Algerian heritage and refusal to sing La Marseillaise” the French national anthem.

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