The second row's call up to the France squad following Paul Willemse's injury has sparked an outcry in France

French rugby is embroiled in a new controversy on the eve of the Rugby World Cup, after head coach Fabien Galthié called up Bastien Chalureau, who was convicted of racist violence three years ago, to replace the injured Paul Willemse in his 33-player squad.

It has even reached the ears of French President Emmanuel Macron, who discussed the matter with Galthié at Les Bleus’ World Cup base at Rueil-Malmaison on Monday. The France coach was caught on video promising the Head of State that Chalureau would speak publicly about the controversy later the same day after Macron was overheard saying: “We don’t want the controversy getting out of hand.”

Read more: France Rugby World Cup squad

A number of MPs have called for Chalureau to be dropped from the squad, following a November 2020 conviction for racist violence. 

The Montpellier second row, 31, has denied the racist element of his conviction and has appealed against the six-month suspended sentence that was handed down. 

He has, however, admitted to being involved in a public altercation outside a nightclub in Toulouse in January that year – when he was a member of the Toulouse squad – during which it was alleged that he used a racist slur.

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The club suspended Chalureau following the incident, and he later moved to Montpellier. He has six international caps, winning his first in the November internationals in 2022.

Bastien Chalureau racism controversy explained

As promised, a tearful Chalureau did face the media on Monday night, insisting he was “not a racist”.

He said: “What I want to say to you is that I confessed to my mistakes, that I paid my debts and I deny all claims about racist remarks. We discussed the matter with the French team staff. They knew from the start. It is an old case and known by a lot of people.

“I wanted to come out in public and address all my team-mates and my family as it does not just affect me, it affects my family. That is why I wanted to appear before you, to clarify the situation.

“I am not a racist, I bring people together. The beauty of rugby is it brings together people from all communities.”

What others said about Bastien Chalureau

Galthié, the FFR’s newly elected president Florian Grill, and World Rugby CEO Alan Gilpin all fielded journalists’ questions about Chalureau at the World Cup launch this week. 

We have said the same thing now for four years and we carry this mission with heart and commitment: we have to unite and share with French rugby and all French people. For four years, racism has had no place in our team, it has no place in rugby,” Galthié  told reporters at a launch event on Sunday.

“Integrity is a fundamental value of our team and our sport. Bastien has informed us of this affair and firmly and formally denies the allegations. Proceedings are underway. He’s been with us regularly for a year now, since last autumn. Before selecting a player, we try to get to know him better, meet him, share our way of living and playing rugby.

“Racism has had no place in our team, it has no place in rugby. Integrity is a fundamental value of our team, of our sport.”

At the tournament’s opening conference, Grill added: “Racism has no place in rugby. As far as Bastien Chalureau is concerned … he has admitted to the violent act but has always denied making racist remarks. He is appealing [against the court ruling], so we have to let the law take its course and see this judicial process through to the end.”

Highlighting the We Are Rugby inclusiveness campaign, Gilpin said: “There’s absolutely no place for discrimination of any form in rugby, and certainly [not] racism. 

“I think it’s important to recognise, though, and Florian [Grill] mentioned it, that we have to respect the legal process. That’s maybe less understood by some of the international media, that [in France] presumption of innocence continues because of the appeal that’s taking place, so we have to respect that process. But yes, there’s absolutely no place for discrimination in our sport.”

Galthié and France have faced a similar situation before. Prop Mohamed Haouas was considered available for selection until his conviction for domestic violence earlier this year when he was handed a one-year prison sentence.

Unlike Chalureau, he did not appeal against his conviction, therefore it stood. Under French law, anyone who appeals against a conviction is considered innocent, pending the appeal ruling.

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