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France: Soccer chief Noel Le Graet quits amid scandals

Le Graet, 81, had already stepped aside temporarily in January

Le Graet, 81, had already stepped aside temporarily in January

Veteran French Football Federation (FFF) president Noel Le Graetofficially resigned on Tuesday, following a Sports Ministry audit that "highlighted the inappropriate behavior of Mr. Le Graet towards women" and a history of psychological harassment.

"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 football," the report said.

Le Graet had already stepped aside temporarily in January pending the results of the report, published two weeks ago. Although he has always disputed the allegations, he said he would resign if the report found that he should.

However, Le Graet also gave an interview to France's biggest sports daily, L'Equipe, after his resignation saying he had "never harrassed anyone, morally or sexually," and that his lawyers would contest the ministry's report via all available legal channels.

Interim President Philippe Diallo will stay on in his stead pending a formal vote in June.

Before resigning, the 81-year-old Le Graet had led the FFF for more than a decade. His tenure, which had been due to last until 2024, coincided with a revival of the men's national team that saw them win the 2018 World Cup and advance to the final of the 2022 tournament.

However, he has also been accused of serial sexual harassment and other inappropriate behavior.

Le Graet also caused a stir when he told French radio last month that if legendary France player and former Real Madrid trainer Zinedine Zidane expressed interest in coaching the national team, he "wouldn't even take his call." He later apologized for the "clumsy" comments.

The interview occured right after national team coach Didier Deschamps had his contract extended until 2026.

FFF supports Le Graet

In response to the Sports Ministry audit of what they called Le Graet's "behavior excesses," the FFF stood behind their longtime leader.

"The FFF recognizes the remarkable sporting and economic performance of Noel Le Graet," the federation said in a statement, before criticizing the ministry report.

"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," the statement read.

His administration has also seen a period of prolonged strife in the women's national team, with several top players refusing to play in this year's World Cup in Corinne Diacre remains coach.

Le Graet is expected to continue on in his leading role at FIFA's Paris office.

es/msh (AFP, Reuters)