Rugby-Tearful Chalureau Denies Racism as France Gear Up for All Blacks Clash

REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
Rugby Union – France v Australia – World Cup Warm Up – Stade de France, Saint-Denis, France – August 27, 2023 France head coach Fabien Galthie before the match

RUEIL MALMAISON, France (Reuters) – French lock Bastien Chalureau insisted on Monday he is not racist amid an outcry over his call-up into the Rugby World Cup squad three years after his conviction for a racially motivated assault.

His comments came as French President Emmanuel Macron and sports officials supported national team coach Fabien Galthie over his decision to pick Chalureau in his World Cup squad.

Chalureau was handed a six-month suspended prison sentence in 2020 after being found guilty of “acts of violence committed because of the victim’s race or ethnicity”.

The Montpellier player, who admitted to acts of violence but denied making racist comments, has appealed against that conviction, but lawmakers from the left-wing populist party La France Inousmise called on Galthie to “seriously consider not selecting Bastien Chalureau”.

Chalureau was called up last Friday to replace the injured lock Paul Willemse, having already won six caps since his conviction.

“This story has been around for years and I totally deny the allegations of racism,” Chalureau told reporters on Monday, four days ahead of Les Bleus’ opening game against three-time champions New Zealand in Pool A.

“Since the first day I’ve admitted my mistakes but denied racism allegations. I am not a racist. I wanted to come and say it out loud here today, because it is something that affects also my team and my family,” he added with tears in his eyes.

Macron said team selection was up to the coach.

“So I’m not going to comment on his choices. He makes them conscientiously and responsibly. They are, by definition, the right ones,” Macron, who paid a visit to the squad on the outskirts of Paris, told reporters.

Sports Minister Amelie Oudea Castera said on Sunday Chalureau was presumed to be innocent while his appeal is under way.

French Rugby Federation President Florian Grill said the judicial process had to be respected.

“Racism has no place in rugby,” Grill said. “He has admitted acts of violence but denies having made any racist comments.”

World Rugby Chief Executive Alan Gilpin said rugby was an inclusive sport.

“It may not be easy to understand outside of France but since he’s appealed the court’s ruling, he is presumed innocent,” he said.