PARIS (Reuters) - Former French international footballer Lilian Thuram refused an offer last year from President Nicolas Sarkozy to join the government as minister for diversity, he told Le Monde in an interview published on Tuesday.
“I met Nicolas Sarkozy and Claude Gueant (Sarkozy’s chief of staff) who suggested that I become minister for diversity,” said Thuram, who has frequently spoken out on social issues and often criticised Sarkozy.
“We had a long discussion but for obvious reasons, I could only refuse,” he said.
Officials at the Elysee Palace declined to comment.
Thuram, 37, a member of France’s 1998 World Cup winning team, retired from professional football last year after doctors spotted a heart problem during a medical examination prior to his joining French Ligue 1 side Paris Saint Germain.
One of France’s most popular players, Thuram, born in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, has spoken out on issues such as racism and problems facing young people growing up in France’s rundown urban areas.
He has been fiercely critical of Sarkozy’s hardline stance on immigration as well as the president’s now-notorious reference to rioting youths as “racaille” or scum.
But Sarkozy has made something of an art of wooing former opponents, persuading former Socialists like Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner to abandon old party loyalties and join his government.
He has also set great store on attracting ministers of immigrant background such as Rachida Dati, the justice minister who is now on her way out, and junior foreign minister Rama Yade.
Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Richard Balmforth