Explained: Why France's best players have refused to play at the Women's World Cup 2023

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Marie-Antoinette Katoto Kadidiatou Diani Wendie Renard Corinne Diacre France Women composite
Wendie Renard, Marie-Antoinette Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani have all said they won't play in Australia and New Zealand. Why?

Under normal circumstances, France would head to the Women's World Cup this summer as one of the favourites to lift the trophy, such is the vast amount of talent they have available.

However, just five months out from the tournament kicking off in Australia and New Zealand, captain Wendie Renard announced she would not be available for selection, with star names Marie Antoinette-Katoto and Kadidiatou Diani following suit soon after.

Their decisions raised serious questions about the French Football Federation (FFF) and head coach Corinne Diacre, leading to her dismissal on March 9.

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It also made France the third nation ranked in FIFA's top seven to be facing a rather public dispute between the players and the federation in a World Cup year, with Spain in a similar situation and Canada battling for more funding.

GOAL has everything you need to know about what is unfolding with the France women's national team.

Which France players won't play at the Women's World Cup 2023?

Renard, an eight-time European champion with Lyon, was the first to announce that she would not play at this summer's World Cup.

"I have defended the blue, white and red shirt 142 times with passion, respect, commitment and professionalism," she wrote on social media. "I love France more than anything else, 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.

"It is a sad day but necessary to preserve my mental health. It is with a heavy heart that I come to inform you of my decision to step back from the French team. I will unfortunately not be playing in this World Cup in such conditions.

"My face may hide the pain but my heart is suffering... and I don't want to suffer anymore. Thank you for your support and for respecting my decision."

Diani and Katoto, two of the best forwards in world football, followed.

"Following the statement of our captain Wendie Renard and in view of the recent results and management of the French team, I announce that I am suspending my international obligations in order to concentrate on my club career," Diani wrote.

"I am the first fan of the French team and if the necessary changes are finally made, I will return to the service of the French shirt."

"The words of our captain Wendie lead me in my turn to talk about the situation in the France team," Katoto said. "The events of 2019, the injury of 2022 then the recent events show me that I am no longer adequate with the management of the France team and the values transmitted.

"I therefore take the decision to put my international career on hold until the necessary changes are applied."

Katoto's mention of 2019 referred to Diacre's decision not to call her up to the home World Cup, despite her finishing as the top goal-scorer in the French league that season.

Griedge Mbock Bathy, the France defender who is currently out injured, also shared a statement in which she expressed "solidarity" with her team-mates. "It is above all a cry from the heart which I hope will be heard," she wrote.

This was not the first time there was controversy under Diacre's reign. Eugenie Le Sommer, France's all-time leading scorer, was surprisingly omitted from her Euro 2022 squad, as was Amandine Henry.

Henry had been named Player of the Match in the Women's Champions League final only nine days earlier. "It just doesn’t add up," the midfielder told L'Equipe. She hasn't played for France since November 2020.

Sarah Bouhaddi, the PSG goalkeeper who won eight Champions League titles with Lyon, also retired from international duty while Diacre was in charge. “Winning a title with this coach seems impossible to me," she said.

Why have France's star players said they will not play at the Women's World Cup 2023?

Neither Katoto nor Renard have explicitly pointed the finger at any one person as to why they are withdrawing from selection, nor is there any news, yet, of a particular incident that prompted this.

However, as the comments from Bouhaddi show, unrest appears to have been bubbling under for some time.

Renard, for example, was previously stripped of the captaincy back in 2017. Diacre said that her level was not high enough, in a year when the defender won the league title, the Champions League and was named to the FIFPRO World XI.

In her book, Mon Etoile, Renard said she had suffered from the "rejection and brutality" of the coach.

Wendie Renard France Women 2022

Despite all of these situations, though, Diacre remained. It's not just about the coach, either. Gaetane Thiney, Paris FC's veteran midfielder, gave an interview to So Foot magazine in 2021 in which she explained that the 2015 Women's World Cup "completely broke her", which asked questions of the federation as a whole.

Noel Le Graet, the president of the FFF from 2011, has reportedly backed Diacre strongly throughout her tenure, but he is currently facing allegations of sexual harassment and stepped down from his role on February 28, 2023. He denies the allegations.

On March 9, Diacre was dismissed from her position as head coach of the France women's national team, with the FFF describing the dysfunctions between players and coach as "irreversible".

What did Kadidiatou Diani say in her interview?

Diani became the first of the trio to address the situation publicly in a blockbuster interview with Telefoot on March 5.

During that broadcast it emerged that Diani was unhappy about the lack of professionalism in Les Bleues' set-up - specifically highlighting an absence of specialist coaching and adequate medical care.

"In the beginning, you had to be injured to qualify for a massage or treatment session like you would have in a club," she said.

"The FFF must make changes. We raised a cry of alarm. We expressed our feelings. I think they will study our case and take all this seriously to move our team forward.

"I think we've reached a point of no return. So, here, for me, if we want to talk about a breakup, then I'll talk about a breakup. I think it's important to have something new because the girls just can't take it anymore.

"I find that we lack professionalism in the France team. Today, we find ourselves with a fairly small staff. It's the coach who decides on her staff," she added.

"We don't have an assistant coach, no specific 'attacking' coach, I'm talking about that because I'm an attacker and it’s true that sometimes I would like to work in front of the goal."

Have Corinne Diacre and Noel Le Graet resigned?

As multiple reports suggested, Le Graet resigned at the FFF's executive board meeting on Tuesday 28 February. He had already taken a step back from his role amid the allegations of sexual harassment and the resulting legal investigation.

Philippe Diallo, vice-president, will act as interim president of the FFF until June 10, 2023, which is the date of the next federal assembly.

On March 8, Diacre issued a statement on March 8 in which she emphasised her intention to be the head coach of France's women's national team at this summer's World Cup.

"For over ten days, I’ve been the subject of a smear campaign which is astonishing in its violence and dishonesty," she said.

However, just a day later, she was dismissed from her role by the FFF.

Corinne Diacre France Women 2022

What does this mean for France at the Women's World Cup 2023?

None of Renard, Katoto or Diani have yet spoken about Diacre's dismissal. However, with RMC Sport reporting that Renard would not play for France as long as Diacre was in charge, this could pave the way for all three to make themselves available for selection again.

Les Bleues' chances of having a good World Cup campaign certainly increase if this is the case. It could also open the door for Bouhaddi and Henry to play for their country again.

That said, it will be a very short turnaround for whoever Diacre's successor is. There is just one more international window, in April, before France's World Cup squad will be named.

It is anticipated that Herve Renard will be the new head coach. The Frenchman resigned as manager of Saudi Arabia's men's national team on March 28 and is expected to be announced imminently by the FFF.