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French basketball bans Heurtel for signing for Russian club

Thomas Heurtel, who played 26 minutes and scored 16 points in the Eurobasket final, dribbles past Spain's Jaime Fernandez. ©AFP

Paris (AFP) - France on Thursday said it would boot veteran point guard Thomas Heurtel off the national basketball team if he played for Zenit St Petersburg.

On Wednesday, the Russian club announced they had signed the 33-year-old for one season with an option for a second. 

The French basketball federation (FFBB) responded on Thursday by announcing that if Heurtel plays for Zenit he will not be considered for the France squad "for upcoming international events, including the 2024 Olympic Games."

Heurtel played for France as they lost the Eurobasket final to Spain last Sunday.He also has an Olympic silver medal and a Eurobasket gold. 

He was a free agent after one troubled season at Real Madrid.He was briefly suspended for disciplinary reasons by Real and did not play in the closing months of the season.His previous stint in Spain, at Barcelona, also ended badly in 2021.

After two other French internationals, Livio Jean-Charles who joined CSKA Moscow and Louis Labeyrie who signed for Kazan, moved to Russian clubs, the FFBB decided in July that it would not select players signed to Russian or Belarusian clubs until the end of the war in Ukraine. 

All the players selected for Eurobasket, including Heurtel, signed a document "indicating that he was not signed to and that he did not plan to sign with a Russian or Belarusian club," said the federation. 

The FFBB said that while it "was informed that Thomas Heurtel had contacts with foreign clubs, including Russian, at no time was it told that a contract had been signed or was being signed with a Russian club."

Even if Heurtel only plays one season in Russia, he would not be automatically reinstated for the 2024 Olympics in Paris and the 2023 World Cup in Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines, the FFBB told AFP.

Russian and Belarusian clubs have been excluded from European competition and the Russian national team was banned from Eurobasket.

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