It’s one of Europe’s biggest clubs and the dominant force in French football, but Paris Saint-Germain says the club’s “spirit and values were betrayed” as its scouts illegally racially profiled young players during recruitment over a five-year period.
Backed by Qatari ownership, PSG released a statement after the French investigative website, Mediapart, published leaked documents on Thursday. CNN is unable to independently verify the documents.
Mediapart revealed that PSG detailed the ethnic origins of potential recruits, and that players were “disregarded” by the Parisian club on the grounds of being black.
The Greater Paris area, particularly its diverse, sprawling suburbs, is arguably the most fertile breeding ground in the world for top-class footballing talent.
In a statement released by PSG on its website, the Ligue 1 club said that the practice of racial profiling took place between 2013 and 2018 and that its management were not aware of it at the time.
PSG said it was made aware of the racial profiling in October and that forms used by the department responsible for scouting outside the Parisian region “contained an unacceptable identification field” which listed the prospective player as French, North African, black African or West Indian.
In France, authorities prohibit the collection of data on an individual’s race, religion or ethnicity.
“At no time (club management) was aware of an ethnic monitoring within the scouting department or ever in possession of such a form,” the statement said.
“These forms betray the spirit and values of Paris Saint-Germain,” it said, adding that young talent is decided “solely on a skills and behavioral basis.”
Now the club, it said, has “launched an internal investigation to understand how such practices could have existed and to decide on the necessary measures to be taken.”
According to the documents leaked to Mediapart, the club’s former chief scout, Marc Westerloppe, said: “There are too many West Indians and Africans in Paris” and that there was a “problem with the direction of the club.”
A player who was revealed to have been racially profiled was 17-year-old Yann Gboho — who was born in the Ivory Coast — as “West Indian.”
Mediapart says Westerloppe was summoned to a meeting in June 2014 in which he rejected the accusations against him as “false, malicious and stupid.”
Westerloppe now works for French football club Stade Rennes. He was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNN. Ghobo is now a Stade Rennes player.
France’s history with football and race
First in 1998 when France won the World Cup and again this year — when it defeated Croatia 4-2 — football has been hailed as a unifying force for a country with a difficult colonial past, where racial tensions were never far from the surface.
In 1998 the team was labeled the Black, Blanc, Beur (Black, White, Arab) and was hailed a positive representation of a multi-ethnic France.
And in 2018, the championship-winning team featured no less than 15 players with African heritage, including 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe, whose mother is of Algerian origin, while his father is from Cameroon.
Barbara Jordan Chair in Ethics and Political Values, Peniel Joseph, wrote for CNN this year that the win “represented a victory for Africa and immigrants everywhere.”
He added: “The team’s success is particularly noteworthy because of the way in which anti-immigrant sentiment, especially against migrants with African roots, has roiled French society over the past two decades.
“The racial and ethnic diversity of the French World Cup team offers another, more optimistic, lesson about immigration, globalization and citizenship.
“We can look to the French support of (Kylian) Mbappe and his fellow teammates for guidance. From Mbappe’s Parisian suburb of Bondy and beyond, French citizens — young and old — have proudly hung French football banners, worn Mbappe jerseys and shouted words of encouragement for the team’s players.
Patrick Mignon, a sociologist at INSEP, the national sports institute (Institut National du Sport, d’Expertise, et de la Performance), told CNN in 2015 that until the 1960s, “France was a very white society.” Most who emigrated originated from all corners of Europe and assimilated seemingly seamlessly into the social fabric.
He said for some, football was the only way for young men to achieve their success.
“It is much more difficult to be promoted socially though work or school,” said Mignon, than through sport. Thus, “sport is a means for people of immigrant background to not only integrate into society, but to have some rewards.”