- Jason Davis

French football is dealing with a crisis. Investigative website Mediapart claims officials in the country's soccer federation discussed, planned, and perhaps executed a quota to limit the number of non-white players accepted into France's academies. Caught up in the scandal is national team head coach Laurent Blanc, a man who played on a celebrated multi-ethnic World Cup winning France squad in 1998.

The FFF has taken action, suspending technical director Francois Blaquart while they investigate the allegations. Blanc is vehemently denying he was in favor of a quota, and claims statements he made about the selection of black players were taken out of context. Regardless of where the truth lies, it looks for all the world like the men in charge of France's national team were at least discussing some disgusting ideas as the means to a troubling end, the exclusion of players based on race or ethnicity.

Racial tension brought on by large-scale immigration into France pervades every aspect of the society. The disgraceful performance (both on and off the field) of Les Bleus at the World Cup in South Africa last year has made the sport of soccer, obsessed over as it is, the most visible manifestation of those issues. France is a country that celebrated its emerging multi-ethnic soccer persona in 1998, saw its national team lose to a Senegalese side full of players developed in France in 2002, had another world championship in sight at Germany '06 before Zizou melted down, and suffered through a disastrous and scandal-ridden performance by the team in South Africa last year.

It has been a decade-plus roller-coaster, constantly tumbling the guts of French soccer, sometimes with stomach-turning results. With the fortunes of the national team at an extreme ebb and the country still struggling with fractures between communities, the marginalization of players with dual-nationality—simply because they might choose to play for another country should they become top players—is the diametric opposite of the proper approach. If FFF wants the players it develops to play for France, it needs to show a greater commitment to the spirit of the Black, Blanc, Beur team of 1998, not manipulate the talent pool to protect a group of people (whites) who don't need protection.

Of course, France isn't the only country to struggle with immigration and its impact on their society or their national soccer team. The issue is also here, in the United States, though it's nearly inconceivable that US Soccer or anyone connected with the leadership of the game in this country would promote a quota system that punished multi-national players, even surreptitiously. It's quite the opposite, actually; fans and administrators alike are constantly hoping to convince players with other options—no matter how slight their promise seems to be—to choose the United States. We actively encourage players who could play for another country to enter our academies, to join our youth national teams, and to be part of a growing soccer nation.

American soccer fans pushing for the integration of a Latin community long ignored/under-appreciated stands in direct contrast to the ongoing political debates on issues like illegal immigration and "anchor babies." Soccer fans don't typically draw a distinction between dual-nationality players and those who can only play for the United States. If you're good and you have citizenship, we'll happily take you. We don't have the luxury of being exclusionary.

That's the difference, in a cynical nutshell. France is dealing with a crisis of confidence, but have a history as an elite soccer nation; it seems that loss of prestige, combined with societal stresses, is causing them to lose their minds on issues of identity. What makes the France National Team French? What make the US National Team American? Certain French football administrators—perhaps as a smoke screen for discriminatory policies tied to xenophobia and racism—are making a stink about players developing in French academies and then playing for someone else. Flimsy as that excuse may be (the number of players of that type is small, and many players with dual-nationality that don't play for France probably would have if they were chosen), it is a legitimate issue for countries investing large sums into their development structure. If the US ever has this problem, meaning academies good enough to produce players that forsake the USMNT for another national team, on a large scale, then the team will likely already be good enough to salve any wounds opened by "betrayal."

American soccer doesn't need policies instituted at the top for discrimination to exist. There's a de facto separation of cultures and classes already in place, not necessarily because of active racism/xenophobia, but because soccer in the US is that dysfunctional at the juvenile levels. Pay-to-play means only those that can afford it get the best coaching. Socioeconomics dictate the overwhelming majority of those players will be white. Bradenton isn't Clairefontaine, but the matriculation of America's elite youth players to the Florida academy couldn't help but be affected by that reality.

MLS academies taking hold means more opportunity to players across class and race, theoretically. A club academy structure, which should mean less reliance on Bradenton (which hasn't exactly churned out top-level pros in recent years anyway), creates more entry points for young players. Even if the leadership of American soccer was of the mind to institute quotas as the French attempted to do, the system doesn't allow for that type of control.

The lesson of the FFF scandal, besides that those in decision-making positions there are irredeemable jackasses, is that groupthink on matters of "type", be it race, ethnicity, perceived commitment to a given country, even attribution of a style of play to an entire segment of the population, is dangerous from a competitive standpoint in addition to being immoral. It's nearly impossible to ensure that you're getting the best  prospective players unless everything is done to strip out biases. If France is only concerned about which of their academy players might go on to play for Senegal, Côte d'Ivoire, Algeria, etc., their priorities need adjustment, forgetting the evil element of discrimination. Limiting non-white players is nothing more than a self-imposed handicap. Narrowing the focus isn't going to lead to better national teams, it's going to lead to further dysfunction, missed opportunities to develop great players, and an alienated portion of the French football-playing population. There's risk in accepting players with dual-nationality and investing in them. That risk is mitigated if they can be convinced that their future should be with the program that gave them their start. Building loyalty is about trust. In the modern world of multiple passports, that's a two-way street.

The troubles of the FFF, and the misdirected attempts to rationalize discriminatory practices, prompts a question about the fine line between exclusionary and inclusionary selection; giving American players of Latin background a greater role in the US program makes sense because they've been ignored in the past; the danger is that there's an over-correction and Latinos are chosen in disproportionate numbers.

Not that such a thing is coming or is even likely, but the possibility illustrates the difficultly in juggling the various hot-button issues in play. Quotas are always trouble.

It's lovely that the United States is both a more well-adjusted multi-ethnic society (though not perfect, not by far) and an aspirational enough soccer nation not to exclude anyone that may help the cause. Even if it's only a pragmatic togetherness—and it's certainly more than that for most of those involved—it can also serve as a symbolic reflection of the people of a diverse country working towards a common end, providing a visible example for anyone not quite sold on the concept.

Let's not get too high-minded. however. The goal is to produce professional players to help win soccer games. The bigger and more diverse the talent pool, the easier it becomes. I'm not sure why certain members of the FFF seem to have forgotten that bit of common sense.

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