French Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graet says racism in football “does not exist” following accusations made by Paris Saint-Germain forward Neymar.
Sunday’s Ligue 1 clash between Paris Saint-Germain and bitter rival Marseille ended with five players, including Neymar, being sent off after a mass brawl in the dying minutes.
As he made his way off the pitch, Neymar is believed to have told the fourth official about an alleged incident of racist abuse and after the match claimed he was called a “monkey son of a b*tch” by Marseille’s Álvaro González.
Gonzalez denies making a remark and the French League’s Disciplinary Committee is meeting on Wednesday to examine the incident.
Neymar subsequently issued a statement through social media regretting involvement in a brawl, but adding that “racism exists” in football.
“Yesterday I revolted,” Neymar says in his statement. “I was punished with red because I wanted to hit someone who offended me.” Neymar went on to say, “Racism exists. It exists, but we have to stop it. No more. Enough.”
In remarks to French TV channel BFM, Le Graet downplayed racism in the sport.
READ: Neymar says he ‘acted like a fool’ in brawl but demands racism must stop
READ: ‘I don’t want to be held hostage on homophobia,’ says French Football Federation president
“Racism in France … in a whole match there may be some discrepancies, but we have less than one percent of difficulties today,” Le Graet told French TV channel BFM.
“When a black guy, forgive me, scores a goal, the whole stadium is standing. So quite frankly, the phenomenon of racism in sport, and in football in particular, does not exist, or [it is] little.”
In response, the FFF says the “polemic” generated by Le Graet’s comments is “not founded.”
“Our president said there is no more than 1% of racist incidents in amateur football,” it told CNN in a statement. “This is a fact based on the Observatory [CIES Football Observatory] of behavior in amateur football, in collaboration with French authority (ONDRP).
“The last report published in 2019 reveals there are 11,335 games with violent or uncivil incidents out of 700,000 per year. And 76 games only, even if it is always too much, were for racism or other discrimination incidents. So less than 1%.
“Our president doesn’t ignore there are racism problems in football and he has fought against racism all his life in football and politics … but no sport like football works for diversity and integration.
“And if there are some racism problems in football … there is no more than in society. Maybe less, obviously less because football puts people together. This is what he would like to mean.”
UEFA and FIFA were not immediately available for comment.
There have been a number of racist incidents in European football in recent months, including in Italy’s Serie A, Ukraine, the English Premier League and during international fixtures.
It’s not the first time Le Graet has made controversial statements. Back in September 2019, he told radio station France Info that he was “totally against” the interruption of football matches as a result of homophobic chants and banners, despite rules introduced by the FFF last season instructing referees to do exactly that.
“I would not stop the games,” he said. “I do not want to be held hostage on homophobia. There are security services to ensure that these banners disappear.”