French soccer powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain acknowledged on Thursday that for the past five years, some of its youth coaches had used racial profiling in the recruitment of young players, hours after a news media report that it was part of an effort to limit the number of black players signed by the club.
The charges of discrimination were outlined in a report by Mediapart, which is part of a European investigative journalism collective that has used a trove of hacked documents to produce a series of articles on the internal workings of several top European soccer clubs. On Thursday, Mediapart published scouting reports it said were used by PSG recruiters from 2013 until earlier this year to evaluate young players; along with evaluating a player’s physical and technical skills, scouts were asked to check a box noting each player’s “origin.”
The club, which has been transformed into a global force by its Qatari owners in the past decade, claimed senior officials had no knowledge of the racial-profiling program. PSG blamed the form, and the system, on a former employee responsible for leading a team that recruited players from outside of the Paris region.
PSG said it began an internal investigation into the profiling last month – “as soon as it was informed” about the tracking of players’ ethnicities – even as it acknowledged the form had been in use for years.
“The Club General Directorate had never been aware of an ethnic registration system within a recruitment department nor had it in its possession,” PSG said in a statement. “In view of the information mentioned therein, these forms betray the spirit and values of Paris Saint-Germain.”
PSG already faces questions about its financial affairs after earlier revelations publicized in what is being referred to as the Football Leaks scandal. Many of the articles are the result of information obtained in an apparent hack that has exposed internal documents and private e-mails of top soccer officials.
Earlier articles have detailed the extraordinary efforts of Gulf-owned clubs such as Manchester City and PSG to evade European soccer’s financial rules; of how several top clubs have plotted to created a breakaway superleague; and how FIFA’s president, Gianni Infantino, has worked behind the scenes to help powerful stakeholders.
The PSG recruiting affair resonated in France because it comes seven years after a similarly ugly episode in which senior officials of France’s soccer federation, including the national team coach at the time, Laurent Blanc, discussed setting up secret quotas limiting the number of players of North African and sub-Saharan origin at its youth training academies. While Blanc was cleared of wrongdoing after an inquiry, another official was fired.
The revelations quickly became a national scandal, drawing condemnation and reigniting debates about race and integration in France. The current storm at PSG comes only months after a much-celebrated victory at the World Cup last summer by a France team composed of players from a mix of ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds.
Only months earlier, though, scouts working for PSG were still being asked to identify young players as French, North African, West Indian or black African, according to a copy of a form which was published by Mediapart and whose original version was reviewed by The New York Times.
Mediapart reported that Marc Westerloppe, PSG’s former head of player scouting outside of the Paris area, suggested in 2014 that the club needed more of a “balance,” because “there are too many West Indian and Africans around Paris.”
Jean-Claude Blanc, PSG’s director-general, said in a telephone interview with the Times on Thursday that the comments had sparked turmoil inside the club at the time. He said he had summoned Westerloppe to a meeting where he was satisfied with the official’s responses and decided against firing him. Neither during that meeting nor one with the club’s 15-member recruitment team did details of the profiling forms ever emerge, Blanc said.
Blanc said the forms stopped circulating this spring, shortly after Westerloppe left the club and the unit he used to lead was integrated into a broader scouting team monitoring France. Westerloppe, who is now with French team Stade Rennais, has not commented on the matter.