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Le Monde
Le Monde
16 Dec 2023

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The trial lasted as long as eight football matches: 12 hours, from 10 am to 10 pm. Throughout that time, Christophe Galtier drank a lot of water and sweated profusely on the stand in the small and overheated room of the Nice court. During the 2021-2022 season, the 57-year-old coach led the local club to 5th place in Ligue 1. It was below the expectations of the club's owner (British petrochemical giant Ineos) but respectable, given the squad's quality at the time and the tensions that shook OGC Nice behind the scenes throughout the season.

The cold war between Galtier and the club's sporting director, Julien Fournier – who had recruited him – eventually led to the departure of both men. Their conflict has now brought the former coach before the courts. The scandal began on September 28, 2022. Two months after being ousted, Fournier set the feud ablaze, while speaking to RMC radio: "If I explain the real reasons why we fought, Christophe will never enter a dressing room again, neither in France nor in Europe."

The bomb exploded six months later, when an old e-mail sent by Fournier to the club's leadership in May 2022 – just before he was ousted – resurfaced. It described Galtier as a racist, complaining about the Muslim players in the squad, and quoting him as saying, "We can't have so many Blacks and Arabs in the team." The Nice prosecutor's office immediately opened an investigation, and on Friday, December 15, Galtier appeared in court on charges of "moral harassment and discrimination on the grounds of belonging to a nation or religion."

At first, the case seemed damning for the defendant. Yet when seen up close, it was less so. The prosecution's position deflated somewhat at the hearing, where Galtier – who had traveled 4,500 kilometers from Qatar, where he now works – did not have to face his accusers. Not a single player, manager or staff member who charged him during the investigation had deigned to grace the court with their presence.

If the hearing dragged on from one end of the day to the other, it was because Judge Alain Chemama took the time to read all the interviews conducted by the investigators. It was tedious but enlightening, enabling everyone to grasp the nuances and complexity of the case, and it emerged that the accusation against Galtier was based entirely on testimony, unsupported by any material evidence – e-mails, recordings, or videos. "Hot air, corridor whispers, and rumors," blasted the defense.

After each incriminating testimony read by Chemama, Galtier responded. The club's video analyst heard the coach refer to two Black defenders from an opposing team as "King Kong." Galtier, both hands gripping the bar, retorted: "For me, it's strength, power, and nothing else. It's not about color, race or anything else. I used the same term about Nicolas Pallois [who is white]."

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