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PSG says it was not aware scouts were racially profiling

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain says it was not aware some club scouts outside the capital were secretly and illegally profiling potential young recruits with lists containing their ethnic origins.

PSG acknowledged that forms with “illegal content were used between 2013 and 2018”, but declined responsibility for implementing the policy.

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Speaking of his shock at hearing of the list, although acknowledging it existed, PSG deputy CEO Jean-Claude Blanc told of his outrage and pledged to get to the bottom of what had happened after an internal investigation was launched by the club last month.

“That we’re having to defend ourselves or justify ourselves on this subject now, with regards to unacceptable profiling, is a feeling of betrayal,” Blanc told The Associated Press in an interview at PSG’s office.

“Ethnic profiling made by a certain number of individuals in a recruitment cell outside of Paris is absolutely unacceptable and against our values. It doesn’t exclude the fact it happened.

“Our responsibility, in addition to shedding all the light on why it happened, will be to take measures to ensure it never happens again.”

Blanc told The AP a total of six players, spotted by the network outside Paris, were recruited to PSG’s youth academy based on profiling criteria.

He repeated that neither he, nor any other member of management, knew such lists had been compiled by cells working independently of the club’s knowledge.

According to a report from the Mediapart news website earlier Thursday, PSG’s non-Paris based scouts listed ethnic origins of potential recruits.

Mediapart and French TV program “Envoye Special” said a young black player was overlooked by PSG because of color.

Following an investigation based on the “Football Leaks” documents, Mediapart alleged 17-year-old midfielder Yann Gboho, who plays for France’s under-18s, was disregarded by PSG when he was 13, and the club’s management decided to cover up “those implicated in the scandal.”

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PSG confirmed in a statement Thursday that forms with such illegal content relating to ethnicity were used by the department responsible for player scouting outside the Paris region.

The club launched an investigation after being made aware, by media consortium EIC, of the scouting files last month.

“They existed. These ethnic parameters were introduced through the individual incentive of this small group of scouts who operated outside of Paris, who operated in a closed circuit. We were not aware of this,” Blanc explained. “It happened and it’s unacceptable. We are all shocked at the club.”

PSG has pledged to implement a code of conduct to reaffirm values and ethical practices, and to set up an ethical alert procedure to help prevent a repeat.

Blanc said the internal investigation will be conducted by external lawyers in the presence of a compliance officer.

French law prohibits the collection of personal data that shows the racial or ethnic origins of individuals.

French Sports minister Roxana Maracineanu expressed her “dismay” at the revelations.

“If these acts of discrimination are proven, they are punishable by disciplinary or even penal sanctions,” she said. “We cannot tolerate people being identified, recruited, according to the skin color or their origin.”

Nathalie Boy de la Tour, president of the French soccer league, added: “Such practices are unacceptable and illegal.”

According to a document obtained by Mediapart, PSG scout Serge Fournier had given Gboho excellent ratings, yet he was overlooked.

Fournier told Mediapart that PSG did not want scouts to recruit “players born in Africa, because one is never certain about their dates of birth.”

Mediapart also obtained documents from a meeting held in 2014 during which Marc Westerloppe, then in charge of PSG player recruiting outside the Paris area, said: “There is a problem on the orientation of the club, a balance is needed on the mixing, too many West Indians and Africans around Paris.”

Blanc said he knew of what he called the “extremely ambiguous” comments made by Westerloppe during one meeting, comments for which Westerloppe was summoned by the club.

“We asked him to explain and justify himself, which he did and we judged at the time – without knowing about the existence of the profiling and the ethnic criteria – his explanations as acceptable,” Blanc told The AP. “So we didn’t take any sanction against him, but we explicitly reminded him as to have no ambiguity with regards to the recruitment of youngsters.”

Asked why Westerloppe was not dismissed, Blanc replied: “Labor law does not allow you to fire someone just for making an ambiguous comment during a meeting … We didn’t have sufficient elements in hand to fire him three years ago. The existence of the lists was not known.”

Although PSG had not planned to speak directly with Gboho, who is now with first division Rennes, Blanc says discussions could take place.

“I think we’ll meet this young player at some point in the next few weeks,” Blanc said. “We’ll see if we meet him as part of the internal inquiry. For now it’s not planned.”

Olivier Letang, PSG’s sporting director at the time of the aforementioned lists, is now president of Rennes. He hired Westerloppe in January. Gboho signed professional forms this year.

Seven years ago, French soccer was rocked by revelations from Mediapart that then-national team coach Laurent Blanc and others discussed informal quotas limiting black and Arab youth players’ involvement in the national squad.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Grassroots refs use rock-paper-scissors to back suspended ref

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“Hundreds” of grassroots referees in the UK used rock-paper-scissors in place of the customary pre-game coin flip this weekend to show support for suspended official David McNamara.

[ MORE: Southgate: “Hungry” Harry Kane “the best goalscorer in the world ]

McNamara was banned for three weeks by the Football Association for using rock-paper-scissors before a Women’s Super League match last month. McNamara left his coin in the referees’ locker room before a Women’s Super League match and opted for a different method to determine which side would kick off first/which end the two teams would attack.

One referee in Lancashire, 19-year-old Ryan Hampson, claimed that the players asked to do rock-papers-scissors ahead of the game he was set to referee — quotes from the BBC:

“Without me saying a word, four players came up to me and said, ‘Are we getting on the rock-paper-scissors today?’ as they had seen coverage of the issue.”

Ref Support UK, an organization that backs the UK’s more than 28,000 licensed referees, issued a statement that very much straddled the fence of right and wrong, versus solidarity:

“We can’t condone anyone deliberately breaking the laws of football. However, we understand hundreds took part. The level of support should send out a message that the punishment was disproportionate.

“This suggests people are willing to face a possible charge from the FA or their county FA as they feel so strongly about it.

The Laws of the Game state, in no uncertain terms, that a coin flip must occur prior to kickoff.

Mauritania qualifies for 2019 African Cup in latest surprise

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Mauritania qualified for its first major soccer tournament on Sunday when it beat Botswana to claim a place at next year’s African Cup of Nations.

It was the second major surprise of qualifying after Madagascar sealed a spot at the African Cup for the first time last month.

Mauritania, a country in northwest Africa covered almost completely by the Sahara desert, came from behind to beat Botswana 2-1 with two goals by forward Ismael Diakite.

It means a nation that waited 17 years after its first international game for its first win will finally play among the continent’s best teams next June and July.

Mauritania is one of 13 countries to have now qualified for an expanded 24-team Cup of Nations hosted by Cameroon. Eight of them qualified this weekend, the penultimate round of games, led by former champions Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Morocco and Algeria.

Nigeria is back at the tournament – for the first time since it won the title in 2013 – after a 1-1 draw with South Africa in Johannesburg on Saturday. A Nigerian state governor promised the team $25,000 for every goal in the crucial game but one was enough as Nigeria secured the point it needed to guarantee it one of the two qualifying places from the group.

Ivory Coast, the 2015 African champion, made sure of its place despite an underwhelming qualification campaign when it drew 1-1 in Guinea on Sunday. The result qualified both teams. Morocco’s place was confirmed after Malawi surprisingly lost 2-1 in Comoros. That eliminated the Malawians and caused their federation head, Walter Nyamilandu, a newly elected member of the FIFA Council, to complain about the makeup of the Comoros squad. It’s almost completely foreign-born players and Comoros’ goals against Malawi were scored by French-born players El Fardou Ben Nabouhane and Nasser Chamed.

Nyamilandu claimed on Twitter that Comoros “buy citizenship to make a national team” and called it “immoral.” There was no sign of an official protest by Malawi, though.

Algeria is through after winning 4-1 in Togo, helped by two goals from Manchester City’s Riyad Mahrez. Other teams to qualify this weekend were Mali and Uganda.

War-torn Libya, which has twice in the last five years had to back out of hosting the African Cup because of its civil war, still has a chance to qualify. Libya crushed Seychelles 8-1 and faces South Africa in a decisive game in the final round of qualifying in March to see who joins Nigeria at the African Cup from that group. Although it’s a “home” game for Libya, the North Africans haven’t played on home soil for five years because of the conflict, instead holding their home games in Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt. Libya needs a win while South Africa just needs to draw.

More debutants may be joining Madagascar and Mauritania next year, the first time the African Cup has expanded to 24 teams from its usual 16. Burundi needs a draw at home in its final game against Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s Gabon to reach the finals. Lesotho, the tiny country surrounded by South Africa, is also still in contention.

200-plus players call for resignation of players’ union leader

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Citing a need for greater support of former players, more than 200 high-profile players have reportedly signed a petition calling for the resignation of Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), and a democratic vote to name his replacement.

[ MORE: Southgate: “Hungry” Harry Kane “the best goalscorer in the world ]

Taylor, who was paid a $3-million salary in 2017, has been in charge of England and Wales’ players’ union for 37 years, but has drawn a great deal of criticism in recent years. Many players are said to believe that Gordon, and the union as a whole, have not been acting in the best interest of current and former players. This is due, in large part, to the PFA receiving more than $34 million from the Premier League’s various television deals, and currently boasting a financial reserve of more than $56 million.

The Guardian claims to have obtained, and has shared parts of, a copy of the petition:

“You may have seen that Ben Purkiss (PFA chairman) has called for an independent review of the PFA. We are backing his call and would like to also call for a fair and democratic election of a new PFA chief executive. Throughout our careers we have never had a vote and this has to change. The PFA needs to be open and accessible to all. Every player should know when and how to vote, and the PFA must be run by people willing to be open, transparent and democratic. We call for Gordon Taylor to step down and allow the PFA to modernize and evolve.”

The goal of a union is not to make and keep money, the players are arguing, but to use its assets to support its members in a time of need. Whether a former player struggles with physical ailments, Alzheimer’s, mental health, the traumatic effects of sexual abuse, addiction or financial difficulties, the PFA should exhaust all of its options to support the players upon whose backs the union was built and has profited.

Southgate: ‘Hungry’ Harry Kane ‘best goalscorer in the world’

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There’s no better goalscorer in the world than Harry Kane, according to England boss Gareth Southgate.

[ MORE: UEFA Nations League: England reach finals; Belgium capitulate ]

Whether or not he’s bagging a goal every game, every other game or once every eight games — as was the case coming into Sunday’s pivotal UEFA Nations League finale against Croatia — Southgate backs a “hungry” Kane over any other forward in the world. It’s not just the goals that Kane scores, but his all-around game that allows him to impact the Three Lions in so many different ways — quotes from the Guardian:

“Harry is the best goalscorer in the world. You’re always loth to take a player off of his ability. I know people have questioned some of those decisions over the summer but he’s our main penalty-taker, our leader. In 98% of the games, his hold-up play and goalscoring is critical. He played a fantastic pass for Raheem Sterling after dropping off deep and turning in the first half. We have huge belief in him. He is so hungry to lead the team on.”

Never mind the fact that England don’t have another forward with a comparable set of skills which would allow them to play in a similar way, should Kane be dropped from the lineup for a meaningful game.

[ MORE: Lingard: Making it to Nations League finals is “what we want” ]

Kane only turned 25 this summer, and has already amassed 20 international goals in just 35 appearances (in four years since making his England debut). If he remains the first-choice no. 9 until he’s 30 — let alone a year or two beyond that — he’ll get dangerously close to breaking Wayne Rooney‘s record of 53 England goals and going down as the best the Three Lions have ever had. Prior to his recent goal-less skid, which would have reached a full eight games had he not grabbed the late winner on Sunday, those numbers stood at 19 goals in 27 appearances — clearly an unsustainable, but otherworldly goal-scoring pace.

Kane’s rise to prominence — and ultimately, superstardom — came so abruptly and unexpectedly that so many fans and pundits appear to be still waiting for the other shoe to drop on the impostor who could never actually be as good as everyone else thinks he is. After five full years of prolific goal-scoring for club and country, it’s probably time we start giving Kane a bit more benefit of the doubt.