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President of France's soccer federation resigns amid harassment allegations

PARIS — Noel Le Graet has resigned as president of France's soccer federation amid allegations of harassment and sexual harassment and a government ministry audit this month that concluded the 81-year-old no longer had "the necessary legitimacy" for the job.

Le Graet, head of the French Football Federation since 2011, stepped back last month amid a legal investigation into allegations against him of sexual and moral harassment and after an audit and report commissioned by the sports ministry.

Earlier this month, a French sports ministry audit concluded Le Graet was no longer fit to administer and represent the sport in France and "highlighted the inappropriate behavior of Mr. Le Graet towards women."

Le Graet, who presided over his last executive committee on Tuesday, has denied any wrongdoing, and the FFF has criticized the ministry's audit as being less than objective.

"Noel Le Graet announced to the Executive Committee of the French Football Federation his decision to step down from his position," the FFF said in a statement.

Le Graet, who presided over his last executive committee on Tuesday and whose mandate was due to end in 2024, said he would challenge the conclusions of the audit via "all legal channels."

"I have never harassed anyone, morally or sexually," he told French sports daily L'Equipe on Tuesday.

Le Graet said FIFA head Gianni Infantino had told him he could take charge of the Paris office of soccer's world governing body, FIFA.

"I saw Gianni Infantino (on Monday) in Paris and he gave me the responsibility," Le Graet was quoted as saying.

FIFA did not respond to a Reuters request for clarification on Le Graet's role

The FFF said vice-president Philippe Diallo will act as interim president until June 10, the date of the next federal assembly.

Le Graet had also come under fire for extending the contract of men's coach Didier Deschamps until 2026 and for making derogatory comments aimed at France great Zinedine Zidane.

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Diallo spoke highly of Le Graet after the executive committee meeting.

"It was a very important meeting for French football which began with an intervention by Mr. Le Graet, very dignified, who through the decision taken this morning, showed that once again he was one of the great leaders of French football," he said.

The FFF also argued that the ministry's "report (was) based less on objective facts than on assessments that have sometimes led to a disproportionate denigration of the body.

"The FFF also regrets the lack of a real adversarial procedure and the failure to take into account the many observations made by the Federation on the subjects that concern it in terms of governance and the fight against sexist and sexual violence, with figures and examples to back them up."

French football has been in turmoil recently despite the national side reaching their fourth World Cup final in the last seven editions of the tournament, losing to Argentina in Qatar last December.

The French women's team coach, Corinne Diacre, has also been under fire and her future may be decided on March 9 by an FFF select committee.

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Team captain Wendie Renard said last week she would not play at this year's Women's World Cup. According to a report in French multimedia outlet RMC Sport, Renard said she would not play for the national side as long as Diacre is in charge.

Fellow internationals Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani have also said they were taking a step back from the national team.

"The executive committee had decided to entrust a small working group with the task of examining this question in depth and to submit its conclusions to the executive committee on March 9. We will see on March 9 if we are able to take a decision. A decision will be taken quickly," said FFF executive committee member Eric Borghini.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Christian Radnedge)

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