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Author Archive for Kim Willsher

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Paris Saint-Germain admit to racially profiling young players

• PSG say management was unaware of ‘secret’ scouting policy• Questions first raised in March 2014Paris Saint-Germain have confirmed that their scouts illegally racially profiled young players as part of their recruitment process.They were asked to lis…

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What are the French strikes about and will they affect the Euro 2016?

Workers are taking to the streets over employment rights, and disruptions are expected – but it’s hard to know how many will heed the call to industrial action

What are the latest French strikes about?

French workers are angry about employment law reforms in the so-called El Khomri bill, named after the employment minister Myriam El Khomri. The Socialist government and employers say the legislation makes the country’s strict employment laws more flexible – including allowing companies to negotiate the 35-hour maximum working week and cap severance payments if they need to shed staff in times of financial difficulty. It is hoped this will encourage firms to take on more staff, helping to lower the country’s high unemployment rate, now hovering above 10%. Workers oppose the law, claiming it makes their situation more precarious and undermines hard-won privileges and rights. The law has sparked the industrial action, but unions are also airing other grievances about working conditions and salaries.

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Schumacher: signs of improvement

Formula One driver’s agent says ‘this is the time to be very patient’ as he continues recovery following skiing accident

Michael Schumacher’s family is confident he will wake up after showing “small, encouraging signs” of improvement, according to a statement released on Wednesday morning.

The Formula One driver, who suffered serious head injuries in a skiing fall in the French Alps at the end of December, has been in an artificially induced coma in a French hospital for more than two months.

Doctors have been reducing the medication in the hope of reviving him.

On Wednesday, his agent Sabine Kehm said in a statement: “We are and remain confident that Michael will pull through and will wake up. There sometimes are small, encouraging signs, but we also know that this is the time to be very patient.

“Michael has suffered severe injuries. It is very hard to comprehend for all of us that Michael, who had overcome a lot of precarious situations in the past, has been hurt so terribly in such a banal situation.

It was clear from the start that this will be a long and hard fight for Michael. We are taking this fight on together with the team of doctors, whom we fully trust.

“The length of the process is not the important part for us.”

The encouraging statement comes just five days after doctors said hopes of the 45-year-old racing driver making a recovery appeared “very slim” and that “only a miracle can save him”.

Kehm added: “It is heart-warming to see how much sympathy his family is shown and I can say that the family is extremely grateful for it. However, it should not be forgotten that Michael’s family is dealing with an extremely intimate and fragile situation.

“And I would like to remind all of us that Michael has always actively kept his family out of the public eye and consequently protected their private lives.

“We try to channel all the energies we have toward Michael and we firmly believe that this will help him.

“And we believe that he will also win this fight.”

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Yannick Noah enlists other French celebrities to release anti far right song

Eric Cantona and Bruno Caliciuri also involved in gesture timed for three weeks before local elections

A French former tennis star turned musician, Yannick Noah, has enlisted the services of two other national heroes to release a song aimed against the far-right Front National (FN).

Noah, who is regularly voted France’s favourite famous person, has released the song Ma Colère (my anger) accompanied by a video featuring former footballer turned actor and photographer Eric “The King” Cantona and singer-songwriter Bruno Caliciuri (known as Cali), whose Italian grandfather fought with the international brigades against Franco

The clip for Ma Colère, the second track on Noah’s album to be released in June, shows the former sportsman dancing barefoot and bare-chested under his white suit, to flashes of the red, white and blue of the French Tricolore. “My anger is not a front, my anger is not national because my anger is honoured to fight theirs,” he sings.

The centre-right Le Figaro newspaper said the timing, just three weeks from local elections, was no mistake. “The former king of the smash has gathered the trademarked big mouths of the media bandwagon,” it wrote, describing the clip’s release in the middle of the election campaign as a “song pamphlet”.

“Yannick Noah has never hidden his penchant for socialist ideas,” added Le Figaro. It pointed out that Noah had publicly declared his support for France’s Socialist leader François Hollande during the 2012 presidential campaign. “His [Noah’s] attachment to the ideology of the left is such that he was one of the rare ‘rich and famous’ personalities to defend the 75% tax rate,” Le Figaro added.

FN leader Marine Le Pen described the song as being in poor taste. “The words are pretty bad. As for this elevator music … I’m not sure it will sell,” she told French journalists during a visit to Angers in western France. “The system is trying to revive the old methods it used against the Front National in the 80s. Mr Noah is a bit old to be playing this game. I don’t know. What’s the next step? A new album: Billy and Buddy fight the extremes? Or perhaps Bécassine (a comic strip heroine) does antifascism? It doesn’t strike me as very serious.”

Noah, 53, won 23 singles titles and 16 doubles titles during a career in which he rose to No3 in the world singles ranking and No1 in the doubles ranking. He has since founded a charity for underprivileged children and is the father of Joakim Noah who plays for the NBA Chicago Bulls.

Fans of King Eric are advised not to blink or they will miss Cantona, filmed glaring into the middle distance, for all of two seconds.

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Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny donates €600k to save accordion factory

French footballer demonstrates pride in his Gallic roots with investment in Tulle factory threatened with closure

French footballer Laurent Koscielny has not forgotten his roots.

Even the bustle of London, where he has lived since signing for Arsenal in 2010, has failed to drown out the gentle strains of the accordion he would hear as a boy growing up in the French countryside.

Now the international defender has dug deep into his pockets to help save the country’s oldest accordion factory in Tulle in the Correze, his home town and president François Hollande’s constituency.

Maugein, founded in 1919, was threatened with closure and the loss of 20 jobs. French media reported that Koscielny is part of an investment group that had put up €600,000 (£495,000) to save the factory from closure.

The local mayor, Bernard Combes, an adviser to Hollande, had contacted the player to raise the plight of the factory.

Hollande made his first speech in Tulle after being elected president in 2012. He and his then partner Valérier Trierweiler were serenaded by an accordionist playing La Vie en Rose.

The Maugein factory makes the accordions from scratch and had a turnover of €800,000 in 2012. However, hit by competition from cheaper instruments made in Eastern Europe and China, it went into receivership last December. In 1939, it employed 300 workers.

Combes told Le Monde in December that the Maugein accordion was a symbol of the region’s industrial heritage.

Koscielny, 28, whose family is of Polish origin earns £2.6m a year with Arsenal.

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Dieudonné M’bala M’bala: French ‘quenelle’ comedian banned from UK

Home Office warns border officials not to let controversial comic into UK to support Nicolas Anelka in ‘quenelle’ gesture hearing

The controversial French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala has been banned from entering Britain after several of his shows were cancelled in France.

Dieudonné had said he would travel to the UK to support his friend, footballer Nicolas Anelka, who is facing a disciplinary hearing after performing a “quenelle” – an allegedly antisemitic gesture – during a Premier League match.

The Home Office has declared the performer persona non grata and warned he will not be allowed into the country.

The Home Office has sent out a warning to airlines and other transport companies as well as border officials, that the performer, known by his stage name Dieudonné, is an “excluded” individual.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We can confirm that Mr Dieudonné is subject to an exclusion order. The home secretary will seek to exclude an individual from the UK if she considers that there are public policy or public security reasons to do so.”

Several of Dieudonné’s shows were banned in France last month at the start of a 22-date tour amid fears that his stereotypical portrait of Jews and mocking of the Holocaust were a risk to public order.

Dieudonné fans and civil liberties campaigners accused the French government of attacking free speech and of censorship. The comedian rewrote his shows dropping the most offensive material.

Anelka, a striker with West Bromwich Albion, has been charged by the Football Association after performing a quenelle when he scored a goal against West Ham on 28 December.

The 34-year-old player said he was expressing his support for his friend Dieudonné, who claims to have invented the gesture, described by some as an inverted Nazi salute.

Dieudonné, who has convictions for inciting racial hatred through his antisemitic jokes and comments, insists the gesture is simply anti-establishment. However, he has failed to distance himself from groups and individuals who have posted photographs of themselves doing the quenelle outside synagogues, Holocaust memorials, Jewish schools and even at the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz.

Anelka has insisted he is “neither antisemitic or racist”. The hearing is not expected before the end of February.

The document outlining the ban on Dieudonné was leaked to the Swiss newspaper Tages-Anzeiger. It states that the 47-year-old comic “should not be carried to the UK” (pdf).

It warned transport carriers they faced a fine of up to £10,000 if they allow him to travel to Britain.

“The above-named has been excluded from the UK at the direction of the secretary of state on 31 January 2014. Carriers required to provide data to e-Borders will be refused authority to carry him to the UK He is not eligible for carriage. If he travels he will be denied entry at the UK border.”

France’s interior minister, who supported the ban on Dieudonné’s shows, said he was no longer artistic or funny but engaged in the “mechanics of hate”.

“We cannot tolerate antisemitism, historical revisionism and racism, and the highest jurisdiction in our country has agreed,” he said.

Dieudonné was questioned by police two weeks ago after a bailiff who arrived at the comedian’s home to serve a writ claimed he was attacked.

The comedian is at the centre of several official and police inquiries after allegations of unpaid fines, the “fraudulent organisation of bankruptcy” and another claim that he incited racial hatred after making antisemitic remarks about radio presenter Patrick Cohen.

During one of his shows Dieudonné told the audience: “When I hear Patrick Cohen speak, I tell myself, you know, the gas chambers … a pity.”

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Quenelle comedian accused of attacking bailiff

Bailiff claims that Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, whose offensive gesture was copied by Nicolas Anelka, fired rubber projectile at him

The French comedian Dieudonné M’Bala M’Bala, whose shows were banned for their racist and antisemitic jokes, was questioned by police for several hours on Wednesday, accused of attacking a bailiff.

The victim told police the controversial comic fired a rubber projectile at him after he and a colleague arrived to serve a writ.

Detectives later searched the comedian’s home and are said to have found a “Flash-ball” type gun – sometimes used by French police – that fires rubber balls.

The alleged attack happened at 8pm on Monday, when two bailiffs arrived at the home the comedian shares with his wife and manager, Noëmie Montagne, with “several writs for payments”, the prosecutor, Patrice Ollivier-Maurel, said.

According to one of the bailiffs, who claims he “formally identified” Dieudonné at the property and that the comedian had “not replied to his calls”, Montagne asked them to leave and they were not able to enter the property or serve the writs. As they left the couple’s home, one of the bailiffs claims he was the target of a projectile. Both Dieudonné and his wife have denied shooting at the man.

Montagne was also questioned by police on Tuesday evening and released. Her husband was questioned later on Tuesday evening and again on Wednesday.

Montagne’s lawyer, Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, accused France’s interior minister, Manuel Valls, who has spearheaded a clampdown against Dieudonné, of “fabricating provocations as part of his personal war” against the comic.

Montagne told Europe 1 radio there had been “no aggression” towards the bailiffs. Dieudonné also denied the attack and said he was not home at the time. He has lodged a legal complaint for “violation of his domicile”.

If the controversy over his shows has died down since Dieudonné agreed to drop the most offensive material, The comedian’s legal worries continue elsewhere. A preliminary inquiry has been opened into an alleged illegal appeal by Dieudonné for public donations to reportedly pay fines for convictions for racism and anti-semitism.

Legal sources told journalists the comedian has a total of €65,290 of fines outstanding, of which €37,000 have been definitively upheld by the courts.

He is also at the heart of a second preliminary inquiry by the Paris prosecutor’s office over claims of “fraudulent organisation of bankruptcy”, “money laundering” and “misuse of company property”.

At the end of December, the Paris prosecutor’s office also opened an inquiry into allegations that he “incited racial hatred” after he made anti-semitic remarks about radio presenter Patrick Cohen.

Dieudonné has also come under attack over his “quenelle” gesture – described as a reverse Nazi salute – which caused a backlash in Britain when imitated by French footballer Nicolas Anelka during a Premier League match in December. The comic has denied all charges, insists the “quenelle” is an “anti-establishment” gesture, and has threatened to sue detractors for defamation.

Amnesty International has expressed concern over the use of the Flash-ball by the French police, saying it has been the cause of “several serious accidents”.

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Zahir Belounis: ‘I need a man who’s mad enough to give me a chance’

Zahir Belounis, the French footballer who was trapped in Qatar, says he is travelling to London for talks with English clubs in the hope he can play again, even if it is just for one minute

Over coffee near the Gare du Nord while waiting for a train to London for “talks” with English clubs, Zahir Belounis is trying hard to be positive and upbeat. Almost too hard. His widowed mother, a strong Algerian woman who has raised three sons, has sent him off across the Channel with the words “have no fear of anything”.

“If I could just play again, even just for one minute, I wouldn’t fear anything; I could even walk on to the pitch at Old Trafford and not be afraid,” he says, as if facing Manchester United fans is the most terrifying prospect he can imagine.

“I hope I can persuade a club president to give me a chance. I know it’s mad, but I need a man who’s just mad enough to give me a chance, for six months, for a minute. I don’t want to end my career like this. It’s too sad.”

It is less than five days since Belounis returned to France from Qatar, the nation that will host the 2022 World Cup, where he was trapped in a nightmare for nearly two years. The French-Algerian player was unable to leave the Gulf State after his club El Jaish refused to grant him an exit permit. In the end he was given permission to go only after several newspapers, the Guardian included, published an eloquent and emotional appeal for help addressed to legends Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola.

Belounis’s experience has thrown the international spotlight on Qatar’s kafala sponsorship system, which gives employers control over the movements of foreign workers. On a personal level, it has left the 33-year-old player psychologically “destroyed” and financially ruined.

“I’m a simple boy. I was never a big-name player but football was my dream and I lived it,” he told the Guardian. “For 10 years I lived it. In just 30 seconds the club killed that dream. Nobody has the right to do that. Not for nothing and I did nothing wrong. But that’s what they did. They killed my dream. It has destroyed me. The club destroyed me.”

Belounis moved to Qatar to join El Jaish in 2007 after an unremarkable professional career in lower league French teams and in Switzerland. He loved it. His wife Johanna joined him and their two daughters, now aged four and two, were born in Qatar. “It was going well, it was a good life and I intended to stay there,” the midfielder said.

In 2010 the club offered him a new five-year contract but the following year when El Jaish were promoted to the top division, Qatar Stars League, Belounis says he was called in and told: “You’re no longer part of the club”.

“I don’t know why. I think because they had bigger name signings. I pointed out I had a contract and they said they’d pay me but they didn’t. Then when I took legal action they refused to give me the exit visa. My wife and daughters went back to Paris in the summer and were planning to stay until I could join them but I wasn’t well and I sought solace in alcohol.

“When my wife heard me on the phone she came straight back. I have known her for 18 years and this has made us even more in love but it’s been hard on my family. That’s the thing that kills me, the suffering of my family, particularly my girls.”

He added: “My mother has brought up three boys and still has to look after my younger brother who is handicapped. I used to keep them. Now I find myself at 33 living with my mother and she keeps us. “It makes me weep, though I never cry in front of the girls because they are already traumatised by this and they need some stability.”

Belounis says he was told he could leave Qatar if he dropped his legal action. He refused and is still suing the club directors, including a member of the ruling Emir’s family, for the €120,000 to €150,000 salary he was due for the remaining years of his contract. He is also writing a book about his experience, which he hopes will be published in Britain.

The Qatar Football Association has denied Belounis’s claims, saying that it had helped him recover unpaid wages when he played for another club in the country but that he had never lodged a complaint about al-Jaish.

Belounis vehemently insists he has no animosity towards Qatar, and is happy “an Arab country” is hosting the World Cup as long as the Gulf State changes the kafala system. As we meet, he is a sad rather than an angry man. “I came late to professional football. I’ve played since I was a child, but it was when I saw France lift the World Cup, I thought, that’s what I want to do as a career. My heros were Zinedine Zidane and David Beckham,” he said.

“I believed I was set up for a comfortable lifetime. Now I have nothing. Whatever happens, I am starting from zero.”

For the moment Belounis has reason to be upbeat. Since his return to Europe he has been contacted by several clubs, he says. After London, he goes to Munich and then Rome for more “talks”.

“My mother taught us to fight for what we wanted. I fought to become a footballer and it all went wrong. The dream was broken. Now I have to fight again,” he said. “I haven’t trained for a while because I wasn’t in the right mental state but I know, given the chance, I could be back on form in six weeks. I’d be ready for anything.

“Perhaps there is a club president out there who’s just a little bit crazy and who will give me that chance. Who knows?”

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