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Three French Stars Step Away From Women’s National Team, Call For Changes

Wendie Renard of France during the UEFA Women's Euro England 2022 Semi Final match between Germany and France at Stadium mk on July 27, 2022 in Milton Keynes, England. (Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)
Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Wendie Renard, captain of the French women's national team, is pulling out of this summer's Women's World Cup in order to protect her mental health. Not long after her announcement, two teammates, Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani, said they would do the same.

Renard, a defender for Lyon who has 142 international appearances, last took the field for France on Feb. 21, in a World Cup warmup against Norway in Tournoi de France. On Feb. 24, she posted a message on Twitter saying, "I love France more than anything, I am not perfect, far from it, but I can no longer support the current system, which is far from the requirements of the highest level." Withdrawing from the tournament, she said, is "necessary to preserve my mental health."

The Paris Saint-Germain duo of Katoto and Diani quickly followed their captain, saying they support Renard's decision and would not return to the national team until changes are made to the team's system.

The vibes going into this year's World Cup in Australia and New Zealand have become particularly sour as several national teams find themselves in open conflict with their home federation. The Canadian women's team found itself forced back into competition in the SheBelieves Cup despite its protest over pay discrepancies and poor treatment. After 15 players from Spain's team threatened to quit if coach Jorge Vilda was not fired, the federation simply ignored them and didn't invite those players to the squad.

Losing three stars with the World Cup months away would be a blow to any national team, but the French Football Federation simply said it took note of Renard, Katoto and Diani's plans and will discuss the matter at a meeting this week, but made sure to add: "The FFF would like to remind that no individual is above the Équipe de France institution."

Not surprisingly, the Union Nationale des Footballeurs Professionels, the union that represents professional French soccer players, struck a more supportive stance, in a statement over Twitter: "This cry of alarm must serve as a catalyst, and push the parties concerned to consider the concrete consequences of how far we've fallen behind over the years."

The cause of the split between the three players and the team is not exactly clear, but French site RMC Sport is reporting Renard in particular will not play as long as the national team is coached by Corinne Diacre, who has led the team since 2017. It's a tenure that has had no shortage of player disputes and disagreements in the press, often resulting in players being removed from the team. One of Diacre's first moves was stripping Renard of the captain title, which she regained in 2021 when Diacre cut then-captain Amandine Henry, who called the team's 2019 World Cup run "complete and utter chaos."

France lost the 2017 Euros in the quarterfinals to England, exited the 2019 World Cup thanks to Team USA, and lost the 2022 Euros semifinals to Germany. But Diacre was given a vote of confidence last fall when her contract with the national team was extended through 2024.

The instability on the pitch has only been mirrored within the French Football Federation. In January, Noel Le Graët, president of the federation, stepped down after an audit of the organization found a toxic culture and allegations of sexual harassment. French police are currently also conducting an investigation into claims of sexual harassment against Le Graët.

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