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Former Paris Saint-Germain coach Christophe Galtier’s trial forces French soccer to face racism reckoning

By Claudia Colliva, CNN

(CNN) — Three months after leaving French soccer club OGC Nice, Julien Fournier, who had served as their sporting director until July 2022, spoke of tensions with his former colleague Christophe Galtier.

The 57-year-old Galtier had coached OGC Nice during the 2021-22 season, before his appointment as Paris Saint-Germain coach in July 2022.

“If I explain the real reasons why we quarreled,” Fournier told radio station RMC, “Christophe would never enter a locker room again, neither in France nor in Europe … It wasn’t about soccer. It was about something much more serious.”

At the time Fournier refused to elaborate on the exact reasons for the dispute between the two men.

Fifteen months and several allegations later, Galtier is standing trial on Friday at the Nice courthouse on counts of moral harassment and discrimination, according to the Nice prosecutor.

If he is found guilty, Galtier could face up to three years in prison and a €45,000 fine ($49,000), according to the prosecutor’s office.

Galtier has himself and via his legal team repeatedly denied any allegations against him and has received support from former players, notably from Burak Yilmaz – the French coach and former Turkish international worked together at Lille.

Galtier ‘reserving his statements for court’

Since Fournier’s radio interview, several players signed to OGC Nice, as well as directors and staff members at the club, were interviewed by the police, the public prosecutor in Nice said in a June statement.

A recent investigation published by French sport newspaper L’Équipe revealed that among those interviewed by police were assistant coach and former OGC Nice captain Frédéric Gioria, as well as a number of the club’s current players.

As reported by L’Équipe, which cited police depositions the paper itself obtained, the players and Gioria alleged Galtier displayed discriminatory and coercive behavior towards colleagues and players of color and/or Muslim faith.  

CNN cannot independently verify the testimonies and allegations cited in L’Équipe’s investigation.

Gioria alleged that Galtier said “another Muslim, I don’t want him, we’ve had enough,” following the recruitment of Billal Brahimi, a French-Algerian left winger. L’Équipe says that Galtier contests these allegations. 

When reached for comment about the allegations made in the investigation, Galtier’s lawyer told CNN that the coach was “reserving his statements for the court,” but reasserted the 57-year-old’s innocence. The Nice prosecutor did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment regarding L’Équipe’s report.

Fournier and Gioria, according to L’Équipe, claim Galtier opposed signing players based solely on their race or religion. 

According to L’Équipe, Fournier told police that Galtier said, “I don’t want any more blacks or Arabs.”

Gioria alleged that Galtier said “another Muslim, I don’t want him, we’ve had enough,” following the recruitment of Billal Brahimi, a French Algerian left winger. L’Équipe says that Galtier contests these allegations.

And according to L’Équipe, Teddy Boulhendi , one of OGC Nice’s goalkeepers, says he felt obliged to eat on match days – thereby breaking fast during Ramadan – to avoid his career being held back. Three other Muslim players similarly said they felt pressured by Galtier to break their fast during Ramadan, according to L’Équipe.

CNN asked OGC Nice for comment about the L’Équipe allegations but hadn’t received a reply at the time of publication.  

A leaked email that kickstarted a police investigation

About six months after the initial consternation caused by Fournier’s enigmatic radio comment, a leaked email, suddenly shared online, brought Galtier back into the headlines. 

On April 11 2023, independent sport journalist Romain Molina revealed in a YouTube video the contents of a long e-mail that he said had been sent by Fournier to Dave Brailsford, the director of sport at INEOS, the company that owns OGC Nice.

In the email, according to Molina, Fournier recounted a series of incidents involving Galtier that had “weighed heavily” on him during the soccer season. 

The email detailed a discussion held in August 2021 during which Galtier had allegedly stated that OGC Nice had to “take into account the reality of the city” and could not have so many “blacks and Muslims” playing for the team. 

Molina told CNN that the email was shared with him “by mistake,” and that, after contacting those involved, he decided to go public with it, claiming that “nobody else wanted to talk, because they were all afraid.”   

CNN cannot independently verify the circumstances under which the email was shared and hasn’t been able to view the email. Galtier has denied the allegations made in the email.

Citing the leaked email and Fournier’s 2022 interview, Nice’s public prosecutor’s office moved to open an investigation into discrimination soon after Molina posted his video, according to the prosecutor’s June statement. OGC Nice’s headquarters were then searched, the statement added.  

Molina said he was surprised that even after the email was made public, little was said or done in the French soccer world to address its contents. 

“I thought that some people would talk … I was so disappointed … It destroyed maybe the last hope I had for this game,” Molina told CNN.

The day after Molina posted his video, OGC Nice published a three-sentence statement saying that the situation had been treated “with the utmost seriousness at the time,” and that the club would make “no further comment.” Neither Nice nor INEOS have replied to CNN’s requests for comment.

Similarly, Galtier’s current club – Qatari owned Al-Duhail – where he has been coaching since October, did not respond to CNN’s request for comment.

PSG, where Galtier was coaching at the time of the email leak, did not respond to CNN’s request for comment. However, in April, the club immediately came out in Galtier’s defense.

In a press conference held on April 14, a spokesperson for PSG declared that “the club supports Christophe Galtier after the numerous and unacceptable threats he has received.”

Fournier did not immediately respond to CNN’s request for comment, but in an interview earlier this month on RMC’s After Foot, the former OGC Nice sporting director said he was not surprised by the allegations made against Galtier in L’Équipe’s article, given that they were “in line with what I discovered and experienced.” 

When asked if he would attend Galtier’s trial, Fournier said it was the victims who would “testify and take the stand,” confirming that he had been involved in the investigation that was carried out. 

In response to CNN’s request for comment, Galtier’s lawyers shared the following statement: “He [Christophe Galtier] is reserving his statements for the court, and is looking forward to this public and adversarial debate in which he will demonstrate that he has obviously never discriminated against or harassed anyone. His entire career and reputation bear witness to his irreproachable character.”

An ‘inflection point’ for France

In recent years, French soccer has witnessed its fair share of high-profile scandals featuring accusations of racism, corruption, and sexual abuse.

Just this year, Noël Le Graët resigned as head of the French Football Federation after an an audit by the Ministry of Sports amid allegations of sexual and moral harassment. Le Graët has denied any wrongdoing.

Galtier’s case, however, is unique given the charges of racism and discrimination leveled against an individual of such prominence in the soccer world and the fact that it has actually reached a French courtroom. 

It comes at a time when France is under scrutiny, given that the country is due to host the 2024 Olympic Games next summer.

“This is an inflection point,” Dr. Lindsay Krasnoff, who is a lecturer at NYU Tisch Institute for Global Sport, told CNN. “If this issue had come to light … five years ago, it would be a vastly different outcome than what we are likely to see this week,” she added.  

According to Dr. Krasnoff, the spotlight placed on France due to the upcoming Olympics, combined with the broader reckoning with issues of racism and discrimination that the global sporting world has undergone in the past couple years, elevate the pressure on Galtier’s case, and might even play a role in its outcome.

Jean-Jacques Bertrand, a leading sport lawyer in France, believes it highly unlikely that Galtier will receive the maximum penalty the Nice court could impose.

“If he is not acquitted, Mr. Galtier will likely receive a sentence, I believe suspended, of several months’ imprisonment, and perhaps a fine,” Bertrand told CNN

“In a case of this nature, [the court] won’t … rule immediately,” said Bertrand. “It will… put the matter under advisement … and indicate the date in the coming weeks it’ll give its decision,” he added.

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