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Why has the US takeover of an iconic French football club caused uproar?

Leftist politicians were up in arms Friday after a US investment firm purchased a beloved blue-collar soccer club, warning that a French cultural and sporting icon could wither in American hands.

Why has the US takeover of an iconic French football club caused uproar?
Former president Francois Hollande visiting the "Red Star" football club in Saint-Ouen, outside Paris (Photo by CHRISTOPHE ENA / POOL / AFP)

Third-division Red Star — which has an English name — is one of France’s oldest clubs, created in 1897 by the World Cup founder Jules Rimet.

While the club’s performance on the pitch has not always matched its popularity, Red Star’s bastion in the gritty northern Paris suburb of Saint-Ouen is hallowed ground for working-class fans, many of whom have fond memories of the area’s Communist past.

A match on April 15 had to be abandoned after supporters inundated the pitch with smoke bombs to protest the purchase by Miami-based 777 Partners, a private equity group focusing on finance businesses.

Hard-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon, who is forging an alliance to challenge President Emmanuel Macron in parliamentary elections next month, was among several politicians who signed an open letter in Le Monde daily denouncing the takeover.

“For us, Red Star is a common good that cannot be sacrified on the altar of profit,” they wrote, urging the government to scupper the sale and defend “a different vision of football.”

Fans claim that 777 is buying up the club — and the pool of potential talent in the low-income neighbourhoods that surround it — to pluck players for its other clubs.

The firm also owns Standard Liege in Belgium, Genoa in Italy and Vasco de Gama in Brazil, and says it has a “major stake” in Spanish first division side Sevilla.

Red Star’s former majority owner Patrice Haddad vowed that 777 would respect the club’s DNA and its “human aspect.”

“How can we protect accessible football if we don’t have the resources? How can we have tickets costing just 10 euros ($10.40)? You need money for all that,” he told sports daily L’Equipe this week.

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POLITICS

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

The final composition of the new French government was announced on Friday. A new investigation suggests that historic rape allegations against a newly appointed minister were ignored.

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

It didn’t take long for scandal to hit the France’s new government.

An investigation by Mediapart published the day after the final list of ministerial positions was announced revealed that two women have accused one of the appointees of rape. 

READ MORE Who’s who in France’s new government?

Damien Abad, the new Solidarity Minister denies the allegations and a police investigation into one allegation was dropped in 2017. But another could be about to open. 

Who is Damien Abad? 

Damien Abad is a 42-year-old son of a miner from Nimes in southern France who became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister for Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People, he was the leader of the France’s right-wing Republicans party in the Assemblée nationale

What are the allegations? 

Two alleged victims, who didn’t know each other, told Mediapart that Abad raped them on separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.

The first woman described meeting Abad for dinner after having met him weeks earlier at a wedding. She said she blacked out after one glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in a hotel bed with Abad the next morning fearing she had been drugged. 

A second woman who lodged a formal charge against Abad in 2017 said that he harassed her by text message for years. She eventually agreed to meet with him one evening. After initially consenting, she told him to stop – but her plea fell on deaf ears as Abad raped her. 

What does Abad have to say? 

The new minister denies the accusations.

“It is physically impossible for me to commit the acts described,” he told Mediapart – in reference to his disability. 

He admitted to sending “sometimes intimate” messages, but said he had “obviously never drugged anyone”. 

“I was able to have adventures, I stand by my claim that they were always consensual.”

Is he under investigation? 

The second alleged victim made a formal allegation against Abad in 2017. 

A subsequent investigation was dropped later that year after a “lack of sufficient evidence was gathered”.

Mediapart report that Abad’s entourage were not questioned by police and that the MP told investigators that he had no memory of the alleged crime. 

The first alleged victim flagged the abuse to the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics – an unofficial watchdog monitoring elected bodies – earlier this month. 

The Observatory has since brought the case to the state prosecutor, but it is unclear if another investigation will be launched.  

Who knew? 

The tone deaf appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister in 2020 was controversial because at the time he was under investigation for rape. His nomination was met with street protests in Paris and elsewhere. Feminists accused (and continue to accuse) Emmanuel Macron of not taking sexual violence seriously. 

The investigation into Darmanin’s alleged crime has since been dropped.

Some will question whether the naming of Abad shows that lessons have not been learned. 

“Once again a minister  in the government of Emmanuel Macron accused of rape,” said Caroline De Haas, the founder of the #NousToutes feminist movement. 

The Observatory sent a message warning senior party figures in the Republicans and LREM about the allegations on Monday – prior to Abad’s nomination. 

France’s new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne denied having any knowledge of the warning. 

“I am going to be very clear on all these questions of harassment and sexual violence, there will be no impunity,” she said during a visit to Calvados. 

“If there are new elements, if the courts are summoned, we will accept the consequences.” 

READ MORE Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

The Observatory meanwhile claims it has been ignored. 

“Despite our alerts, Damien Abad who is accused of rape has been named in government. Thoughts and support to the victims,” it tweeted

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