Raging debate on future Zidanes

THE administration of sports is never smooth sailing, and even the French will not deny this. And football is often sports’ most controversial game. In France, a debate is raging as to who should take charge of training of budding youngsters dreaming to be Zinedine Zidanes. 

Professional football clubs manage what is called “pre-training” centres for children as young as 13. 

GILLES JOHANNET:A senior official of the French Sports Ministry.

The French Football Federation (FFF) want to oversee the pre-training to ensure that youth-level development follows a certain course, but the clubs are resisting for fear that they will lose “control” of the youngsters they have roped in. 

The FFF also want to keep a close eye on the clubs for fear that the latter may not always be concerned with the best interest of the young players. 

As both parties go head-on, the French Sports Ministry is grappling with their own affairs following a restructure last year. 

Previously, the Sports and Youth portfolios were under a single ministry. The Education Ministry has been expanded to include the Youth portfolio. 

French Sports Ministry senior official Gilles Johannet said that with the many issues at stake in French sports, it was difficult to operate under the previous set-up. 

“It’s been a year now (since the Sports Ministry was created) and we have to get on to our core business. The split with Education, which has the largest annual budget (20%), has not affected the allocation for sports. We still get a respectable amount. 

“We are now able to focus on overcoming the obstacles to achieve sporting excellence,” he added in a recent interview. 

Almost 10 million people are enrolled in sports federations in France, with football and tennis attracting the largest participation. 

Johannet said with football’s elevated status in France, the ministry was closely monitoring the way youngsters were being nurtured in the game. 

He said there were seven inter-regional football-training centres in the country handling those in the 13 to 15-year age bracket, with the one in Clairefontaine being the main one. The seven centres exclude the “pre-training” centres operated by the clubs, he added. 

The FFF, he said, planned to start even earlier by opening pre-training centres for those aged between seven and 12. 

“But for the federation to be successful, some of the clubs will have to shut down their own pre-training centres. The federation also want to move in, as the existing centres aren’t able to supply enough (players) to cater to national needs,’’ he said, adding that the centres presently recruited about 200 youngsters annually. 

“Some clubs are out to grab those in their early teens. The clubs are not willing to let go (of the pre-training). This is one of the biggest issues of football in Europe. We are trying to work out a solution at the European-level,’’ he pointed out. 

Johannet said that with the exception of the Clairefontaine training centre, which had an 80% success rate in terms of those turning professional, the six other centres still had lots of catching up to do. 

“The ratio (for the other centres) is as low as one out of 100 players making it to the top,’’ he added.  

Even in Clarefontaine, he added, there was room for improvement. “No doubt it is very efficient, but there are hitches. It seems to be much too focused on competitions, overlooking the need for (better) facilities.’’ 

Valery Genniges, the ministry’s adviser on European and International Affairs, said there were two budget sources for sporting needs – one from the government, and the other from the National Fund for Sports Development that is lottery-based. 

The annual budget for sports this year was 414mil euros (RM1.6bil), with the fund contributing 210mil euros (RM840mil), he added.  

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