France’s “planète foot” – What’s up?

Readers of this site are familiar with Louise Peloquin as the author of the Boarding School Blues story that’s published in serialized installments every two weeks, but Louise is also our correspondent on all things French. So a few weeks ago when I started reading stories about turmoil on the French women’s soccer team, I invited Louise to share her perspective on what was going on:  

France’s “planète foot” – What’s up? 

Louise Peloquin 

The 22nd edition of the FIFA World Cup, hosted by Qatar in November and December 2022, turned a lot of us into football, AKA soccer, fans. I have yet to assimilate all of the lingo and am incapable of providing credible commentary on a match. Nonetheless, I can name-drop – Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappé and Antoine Griezmann for example. And I’ve got a soft spot for Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

Since I’m in France at the moment, a place where “le foot” is a religion, I can’t help but tune into the latest FFF (“Fédération Française de Football” which manages all amateur and professional teams) news, or should I say imbroglios. Here are a couple.

For all those soccer experts out there, my disclaimer – the following tidbits are neither extensive nor brought to you by a specialist of “le ballon rond” (the round soccer ball)!

Noel Le Graet

On February 28th, Noël Le Graët, 81, resigned as FFF President, a post he had occupied since 2011. The announcement came after months of controversy which shook up the sports scene. Before the FFF, Le Graët had headed the “Ligue nationale de foot” (which manages professional teams only) from 1991 to 2011.

So what provoked his decision to leave “la planète foot”? Accumulated allegations of homophobia, and racism caught up with him, all exacerbated by an overwhelmingly negative audit leaked to the press. The pressure had become too heavy to brush off.

Although very few FFF executive committee members wished to speak to the media to call for Le Graët to step down, most of them are said to be relieved that he did so of his own accord. Over the last few months, the crisis had seriously tainted the image of “le football français”.

In addition to what the press has labeled his “behavioral deviations” – homophobic and racist speech – Le Graët has been under investigation for moral and sexual harassment since mid-January. He continues to deny any accusation.

Corinne Diacre

Women’s football has been making the headlines as well. In the run-up to the FIFA 2023 Women’s World Cup, to kick off in New Zealand and Australia in July, the French team has been training on pretty rocky ground. On March 9th, the day after International Woman’s Day, Corinne Diacre was dismissed as coach on the grounds that her service had become misaligned with the demands of a very high competitive level (“un décalage avec les exigences du très haut niveau”). Three of the team’s best players, including captain Wendy Renard, had decided to withdraw from the team saying that the leadership had to be completely revamped because its dysfunction had reached a point of no return.

Corinne Diacre, 48, international football player from the end of the 1980’s to the 2000’s, became a coach. In 2014, she was the first woman to train a men’s professional team – Clermont Foot 63.

As I write this on March 13th, no successor has been named to replace either Diacre or Le Graët.

For longstanding fans and neophytes alike, let’s hope France’s “planète foot” enters into more clement climate over the months to come.