French lawmakers hold hearing about WC fiasco

Paris: Lawmakers taking part in a closed-door hearing about France`s World Cup fiasco said Wednesday that coach Raymond Domenech refused to take any responsibility for his team`s misbehavior and offered no real explanation for their debacle.

Lawmakers said Domenech, who is retiring, tried to pin blame on the media during the parliamentary hearing. Prominent lawmaker Jean-Francois Cope said his testimony "wasn`t very dignified."

Many had kinder words for French Football Federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes, who plans to resign this week, and who also testified at the hearing held by the National Assembly`s commission on culture and education.

The hearing went ahead despite a warning from FIFA about French government meddling in soccer affairs. FIFA president Sepp Blatter said the country`s national team risks suspension from global soccer if President Nicolas Sarkozy or political leaders interfere in the running of the federation.

Lawmakers retorted that it wasn`t Blatter`s place to tell them how to do their jobs.

"It isn`t FIFA`s role to threaten French lawmakers, we`re in a democracy and parliamentarians have the right to hear anyone they want," said lawmaker Eric Ciotti.

"This isn`t just about football, it`s about France; it`s our honor that`s at stake," added lawmaker Jacques Remiller.

Remiller said the whole hearing was "disappointing and not convincing at all."

"There will have to be more resignations at the federation, because the problems are deeply, deeply rooted," he said.

The France team, which won the 1998 World Cup and was runner-up four years ago, lost twice and drew once to finish last in its group. Even worse, players went on strike at training after forward Nicolas Anelka was sent home for insulting Domenech.

Then Domenech added yet more dismay by refusing to shake hands with rival coach Carlos Alberto Parreira after France`s 2-1 loss to host South Africa.

Lawmakers said Domenech blamed a newspaper, which printed details of Anelka`s expletive-laden tirade, for the disarray. Domenech also said the paper misquoted the comments.

"All Domenech says is, `It`s the press, it`s the press,`" complained lawmaker Bernard Debre.

Domenech entered and left the hearing through a side door, carefully avoiding reporters.

Domenech told lawmakers he refused to shake hands with the South Africa coach because Parreira reportedly made disparaging comments about the French team to reporters, Cope said.

"You can find that a convincing argument, or not," he said, clearly indicating he didn`t.

Cope added that lawmakers were planning to offer a series of measures to "modernize the governance of the French federation."

Bureau Report

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