Scandal-hit French football chief Noel Le Graet quits
French Football Federation president Noel LeGrae resigned on Tuesday following allegations of sexual and psychological harassment, ending more than a decade of presidency.
The 81-year-old retired 13 days after the release of a revealing report on FFF management practices, but despite this, it has emerged that he intends to continue serving on FIFA’s world governing body in their newly opened office in Paris.
Le Gré’s time at the helm of the federation coincided with the resurgence of the French men’s national team, with their 2018 World Cup victory followed by reaching last year’s final in Qatar, which they lost on penalties to Argentina.
However, his downfall became inevitable after a report commissioned by the sports ministry was scathingly critical of the veteran boss.
“Given his behavior towards women, his public comments and the shortcomings of the management of the FFF, Mr. Le Gras no longer has the necessary legitimacy to govern and represent French football,” the report said.
In January, Le Graet had already agreed to resign pending the results of a review that concluded that he should not return to the position because his “behavioral excesses are incompatible with the performance of his functions.”
It was revealed last month that Le Gras, whose mandate was to run until 2024, is under investigation for sexual and psychological harassment following accusations by football agent Sonia Sweed.
He was already under pressure after making a snub in a radio interview about French legend Zinedine Zidane’s potential interest in coaching the national team.
This happened after the contract with longtime coach Didier Deschamps was extended until 2026.
“I wouldn’t even take his call,” Le Grae told RMC radio when asked about Zidane.
Le Grae announced his resignation at a meeting of the federation’s executive committee, and members of the committee told AFP that Philippe Diallo would remain acting president.
Diallo, the federation’s vice president who originally replaced Le Gré when he first stepped down in January, is expected to remain in office until a permanent successor is chosen in June.
French Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castera said LeGray’s departure was “the right decision for the FFF and for himself”, but the federation stood by its outgoing boss.
“The FFF recognizes the outstanding athletic and economic performance of Noel Le Grat,” the federation said in a statement, before lashing out at the authors of the audit.
“The report does not mention any systematic weaknesses. However, the FFF notes that the report is based less on objective facts and more on comments that sometimes led to exaggerated vilification of the body.”
It emerged late Tuesday that Le Grae planned to sue Udea-Castera for libel and sue Udea-Caster for defamation, his lawyer Thierry Marambert told French television.
– Roles of FIFA –
Last January, FIFA handed Le Graet the role of Paris delegate for Gianni Infantino, president of world football’s governing body, and he is now expected to retain the position.
“He is going to head the office in Paris. He got this job thanks to his competence, knowledge and experience,” said FFF committee member Eric Borghini.
Le Graet became president of the FFF in 2011 at a time when the French game was faltering after the national team’s disastrous performance at the 2010 World Cup when the players went on strike.
Le Graet oversaw the appointment of Deschamps as manager in 2012, and France reached the Euro 2016 final as hosts before having played two consecutive World Cup finals.
He also oversaw the success of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France.
“He is a great leader. This federation is one of the most well-run federations,” said Lyon veteran Jean-Michel Ola, an influential member of the FFF executive committee, on Tuesday.
However, Le Grey’s departure also comes amid a deepening crisis in the French women’s team.
Several star players, led by captain Wendy Renard, announced last week that they would no longer play for France with their current squad, with only five months left before the Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
This put the future of coach Corinne Diacre, who was backed by Le Grae, in serious doubt.
Speaking on Tuesday, interim chief Diallo said a decision on Diacre’s future would be made “very soon.”