French football chief Noël Le Graët resigns amid sexual harassment probe

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France’s longtime football boss Noël Le Graët resigned as head of the French Football Federation (FFF) on Tuesday amid a legal investigation into alleged harassment and a damning audit commissioned by the sports ministry.

The 81-year-old was suspended as head of the French Football Federation (FFF) in January following the launch of an investigation into allegations of sexual and moral harassment.

His resignation comes 13 days after the publication of a damning report into management practices at the Paris-based FFF, which had been commissioned by the French sports ministry.

The report by the French General Inspectorate of Education, Sport and Research said Le Graët should not return because his “behavioural excesses are incompatible with the exercise of his functions”.

The FFF said vice-president Philippe Diallo would act as its interim president until June 10, the date of the next federal assembly.

Le Graët, a former chairman of Breton club En Avant Guingamp, had been in charge of the FFF since 2011.

His time at the helm coincided with the revival of the French men’s national team as a force, with their victory at the 2018 World Cup followed by a run to last year’s final in Qatar, which they lost on penalties to Argentina.

But his iron grip on the job loosened in early January amid outrage at dismissive remarks he made about Zinedine Zidane’s potential interest in coaching the national team.

His remarks triggered a backlash from politicians and sports personalities including France’s star striker Kylian Mbappé, who criticised Le Graët over his “disrespect for the legend” Zidane. 

Days later, it emerged that the embattled football chief was being investigated for sexual and psychological harassment following allegations made by a female football agent, Sonia Souid.

As pressure mounted, Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra joined calls for Le Graët’s ouster, saying the longtime FFF boss “no longer has the legitimacy to administer and represent French football”.

FIFA job

Even as it confirmed Le Graët’s resignation on Tuesday, the FFF criticised the sports ministry’s audit, saying it was “based less on objective facts than on assessments”.

Le Graët, whose mandate was due to end in 2024, said he would challenge the conclusions of the audit via “all legal channels”.

“I have never harassed anyone, morally or sexually,”

He told French sports daily L’Equipe on Tuesday evening.

Le Graët added that FIFA head Gianni Infantino had told him he could take charge of the Paris office of football’s world governing body.

“I saw Gianni Infantino (on Monday) in Paris and he gave me the responsibility,”

Le Graët was quoted as saying.

FIFA did not immediately respond to requests for clarification on Le Graët’s role.

Infantino appointed Le Graët in January 2022 as his personal delegate to FIFA’s satellite office in Paris that includes liaising with member federations in Europe and Africa.

“The French Football Federation is doing a remarkable job,”

“and I often have the opportunity to talk with Noël Le Graët to better understand how the example set here in France can support football development projects on a global basis”.

Infantino said last year in announcing the appointment.

Source: (FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, Reuters)

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