Paris (AFP) – Karim Benzema found himself isolated on Thursday a day after his sensational claims that Didier Deschamps had “bowed to pressure from a racist part of France” by keeping him out of the Euro 2016 squad.
Political and sporting figures condemned the accusations of the Real Madrid player, but stressed that racism did still exist in France.
“Racism is a good excuse,” said Labour Minister Myriam El Khomri, herself of Moroccan origin.
“Of course …there is racial discrimination in our country. I’ve been a victim, I’m not going to tell you otherwise.
“But when one wears the France jersey, there is a duty to act in an exemplary fashion,” she added.
Some have said that Benzema’s exclusion from the squad ahead of the competition that starts on June 10, has more to do with his alleged involvement in a blackmail case than his Algerian origins.
Benzema was charged earlier this year with complicity in an attempt to blackmail France teammate Mathieu Valbuena over a sextape.
Questions about the motives for excluding Benzema and fellow striker Hatem Ben Arfa, whose father was a Tunisian international, have been raised by France football legend Eric Cantona, setting off a new racism debate.
But former France international defender Lilian Thuram, a 1998 World Cup winner alongside Deschamps, said Benzema was not taking responsibility for his own actions.
“If he’s not selected, it’s because of the Mathieu Valbuena affair,” Thuram told France Info radio.
“Racism exists in French society, Benzema could have done a lot, it would have been extraordinary for him to be captain of the France team, but he would have had to be irreproachable,” said Thuram, from the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, who heads a foundation for education against racism.
France coach Deschamps, currently at a training camp with Les Blues in Austria ahead of Euro 2016, refused to comment on the subject.
“I don’t have a reaction,” he told AFP. “I don’t want to get into this debate, I’m not here for that. I’m focused on the competition and what’s ahead of us.”
– Cantona insists –
Mourad Boudjellal, president of Toulon rugby club, said he believed Benzema’s words were dangerous because they could play into the hands of extremists.
“For young people from sensitive urban areas who are lacking role models, it becomes a great example to some recruiters, to tell them: ‘Look, even if you become the best in your sport, like football, look at Benzema, you’re rejected’,” said Boudjellal.
Cantona weighed into the debate again in an interview published on the Liberation newspaper website on Wednesday night.
The former Manchester United star said last year’s Paris terror attacks meant that “the north African community is viewed differently” and that French society is “punishing an entire community”.
When France won the World Cup in 1998 it was hailed as a major step for recognising the country’s multi-cultural roots.
But the government has acknowledged that many immigrant communities are ghettoised and neglected by the state, while the spread of jihadist ideology and the rise of the far-right National Front have questions of race and national identity at the forefront of political debate.
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