French soccer federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graet resigned on Tuesday following accusations of sexual and psychological harassment, bringing to an end more than a decade in charge. The 81-year-old's resignation came 13 days after the publication of a damning report into management practices at the FFF. Nevertheless, he is set to continue working for soccer's world governing body FIFA at its recently opened office in Paris.
Le Graet's time at the helm of the federation coincided with the revival of the French men's national team, with its victory at the 2018 World Cup followed by a run to last year's final in Qatar, which it lost on penalties to Argentina. Yet, his downfall became inevitable after the report commissioned by the sports ministry delivered a stinging criticism of the veteran boss.
"Considering his conduct towards women, his public comments and the governance failings of the FFF, Mr. Le Graet no longer has the necessary legitimacy to run and represent French soccer," the report said.
Le Graet had already agreed in January to step down pending the outcome of the audit, which concluded that he should not return to the role because his "behavioral excesses are incompatible with the carrying out of his functions."
It was revealed last month that Le Graet, whose mandate was to run until 2024, was being investigated for sexual and psychological harassment following allegations made by soccer agent Sonia Souid. He was already under pressure after making dismissive remarks in a radio interview about French legend Zinedine Zidane's potential interest in coaching the national team. That was after long-serving manager Didier Deschamps had his contract extended until 2026.
"I wouldn't even have taken his call," Le Graet told RMC radio when asked about Zidane.
Le Graet announced his departure at an executive committee meeting of the federation, with members of the committee telling AFP that Philippe Diallo would remain in the role of interim president. Diallo, a federation vice-president who had initially moved up to fill in for Le Graet when he first stepped aside in January, is expected to remain in charge until a permanent successor is voted for in June.
France's Sports Minister, Amelie Oudea-Castera, said that Le Graet's departure was "the right decision for the FFF and for him," but the federation defended its outgoing boss. "The FFF recognizes the remarkable sporting and economic performance of Noel Le Graet," the federation said in a statement, before hitting out at the authors of the audit:
"The report does not mention any systematic failing. The FFF nevertheless notes that the report is based less on objective facts than on comments that have sometimes led to exaggerated bad-mouthing of the body."
Le Graet was handed a role by FIFA in January of last year as the Paris delegate to FIFA President Gianni Infantino and he is now expected to retain the position.
"He is going to run the office in Paris. He was given the job because of his competence, his expertise and his experience," FFF committee member Eric Borghini said.
Le Graet became president of the FFF in 2011, at a time when the French team was reeling in the wake of its disastrous showing at the 2010 World Cup, when the players went on strike. Le Graet oversaw the appointment of Deschamps as coach in 2012, and France reached the Euro 2016 final as hosts before its back-to-back World Cup final appearances. He also supervised France's successful hosting of the 2019 Women's World Cup.
"He is a great leader. This federation is one of the best-run federations," Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas, an influential member of the FFF executive committee, insisted on Tuesday.
However, Le Graet's departure also comes amid a deepening crisis within the French women's team. Several star players, led by captain Wendie Renard, announced last week that they would no longer play for France under the current setup, with just five months to go until the Women's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. That has placed the future of coach Corinne Diacre, who had the backing of Le Graet, in serious doubt. Speaking on Tuesday, Diallo said a decision on Diacre's future would be made "very soon".
© Agence France-Presse