French football president Noel Le Graet steps back pending investigation

Noel Le Graet agreed to step back from his duties as president of the French football federation on Wednesday following an emergency executive committee meeting into his behavior.

The 81-year-old Le Graet has faced claims of sexual harassment and the football federation is the target of an investigation ordered by French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera.

The federation said in a statement Wednesday that Le Graet agreed to step away from his role until the audit's findings have been fully reviewed by the executive committee.

That is expected to be by the end of January. Until then, he will be replaced in an interim role by federation vice president Philippe Diallo.

The federation added that director general Florence Hardouin has been temporarily suspended to allow for an investigation before eventual contract termination. No further details were given about Hardouin.

Le Graet recently extended France coach Didier Deschamps' contract until July 2026, after he led the national team to the World Cup final in December. The executive committee said it has validated the contract.

On Tuesday, sports agent Sonia Souid accused Le Graet of improper conduct over several years, saying he only was interested in her sexually. Souid said in an interview with L'Equipe sports daily that Le Graet repeatedly tried to approach her from 2013-17.

Oudea-Castera piled yet more pressure on Le Graet on Monday, accusing him of "damaging the image of our country." Patrick Anton, head of the French football federation's ethics council, issued a statement Tuesday urging Le Graet to leave his post.

Le Graet has had a tumultuous week after saying he "couldn't care less" about France football great Zinedine Zidane's future as a coach. He subsequently apologised for his comments after facing a barrage of criticism.

Le Graet and Hardouin also have senior positions at FIFA and UEFA.

Le Graet is currently a candidate for another four-year term on the FIFA Council, the football body's decision-making committee. He is being challenged for the seat by Portuguese football federation president Fernando Gomes. The election is set for April 5, when UEFA member nations meet in Lisbon.

Hardouin has the protected women's seat on UEFA executive committee, which expires at the April 5 congress in Lisbon. She could withdraw as a candidate by the Feb. 5 deadline.

Oudea-Castera ordered an investigation into the federation in September after the body said it would file a defamation lawsuit against So Foot magazine, which reported that Le Graet allegedly harassed several female employees.

The French magazine published a six-page investigation quoting anonymous former and current employees, and inappropriate text messages that Le Graet allegedly sent to the women.

Last March, Le Graet was re-elected on a four-year term despite opposition from anti-racism activists who describe him as out of touch.

Le Graet had downplayed racism in football, telling broadcaster BFM: "This phenomenon of racism in sport, and in football in particular, does not exist at all or barely does."

Le Graet was against the idea of players wearing rainbow-colored armbands to campaign against discrimination during the World Cup in Qatar.

Leadership roles in French sports have come under scrutiny in recent months. French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte is fighting a suspended two-year sentence on corruption charges.