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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Le football tétanisé par la violence

by Lionel Venturini

French Soccer Paralysed by Violence

Translated Thursday 7 December 2006, by Laura Wheeler

Xenophobia. Yesterday’s score will be held against its violent fans: political and athletic leaders assign the entire blame for soccer’s ills to the Parisian soccer club, PSG ’Paris-Saint-Germain)

Unbelievable! A single paragraph to say that “Thursday’s soccer score remains secondary to the tragedy.” Five paragraphs to reassure soccer fans: Alain Cayzac made a lengthy declaration which was published on the club’s website on Friday, where he expresses his concern about the long-range implications of this “difficult athletic situation... which far surpasses the dimensions of a club crisis”, of his hope that “soccer players will react like men”, and deplores the “death of a youth”, under "doubtful circumstances which remain to be clarified.”

Not a word about the racism and antisemitism which pervaded the stadium and its immediate surroundings – just an “appeal for calm, for unity and dignity”. On Saturday, after meetings at Place Beauveau, with the Minister of the Interior and with right-wing groups, the PSG manager finally said that “if I can’t eradicate the problems of racism, violence and various discriminations, I shall have to bear the consequeces”.

Has Alain Cayzac been overtaken by events? He’s in charge of a club with a troubled past, whose violent fans have sometimes been hired to ensure law and order and sometimes kept off-limits – depending on the day’s directives. Furthermore, there’s a vague sense of embarrassment because of the personality of the victim, Julien Quemener, a member of the Boulogne Boys (a group associated with violence and pegged as far-right). However, the mechanism of hooliganism is more complex than a simple political affiliation – somewhere between acting as a social safety-valve and a quest for identity.

On Friday night, Julien’s mother defended her son, on RTL radio, as a young man "who has a strong character, who would never let himself be carried away and who was completely unaffiliated politically”. She didn’t explain her son’s presence alongside other fans at the Porte de Saint-Cloud (on the outskirts of Paris) who were shouting racist slogans.

Reinforcing existing measures

It’s difficult to weigh the value of the steps announced on Saturday by the Minister of the Interior. First, he’s trying to reinforce existing measures: the Paris police department will be compiling a “complementary list of people banned from sports stadiums”. This list will undoubtedly be drawn up with the help of the video surveillance cameras which were running on Thursday evening. Their names will be added to the 70 people who have already been banned from Parisian stadiums.

This policy is inspired by the British, but it was implemented at such a late date that it is not reaping the same success as on the other side of the English Channel, where hooliganism has been banished by the use of heavy fines and passport confiscation.

“We will no longer tolerate racists in the stadiums, or nazi salutes, or monkey calls when black soccer players kick the ball”, exclaimed an indignant Nicolas Sarkozy. The minister has also requested that soccer fan groups meet with policemen before soccer games “in order to avoid violence”. Furthermore, he has asked the Professional Soccer League (LFP) to follow its own guidelines and have recourse to closed matches as often as needed so as to sanction incidents.

The most spectacular measure concerns ticket sales, which must henceforth be reserved for members of official organisations. This way, each spectator’s identity will be known. “We’d rather see the stadium partially empty, than full of undesirable fans”, the Minister said.

This is easier said than done: he must receive – and thereby legitimize - Pierre-Louis Dupond, the President of the Boulogne Boys, who has himself been banned from the stadiums. Furthermore, he is the one who wrote the deplored law of July 5, 2006, calling for the dissolution of “violent fan groups”, but which is not scheduled to take effect until the end of the year.

And what about extremists who are scattered throughout the community, rather than being under the relative control of organisations? And those who remain outside the stadiums, agreeing to meet with competing groups to stage fights?

Late in the afternoon, on November 25, Parisian soccer fans organised a silent march in central Nantes. The PSG played there without anyone questioning the legitimacy of maintaining the match. And it occurred to no one to stop the Nice-Marseille game which took place on October 29th, and where a fireman had his fingers ripped off.

By wanting the game to go on, at any cost, and by relegating its ills to “a problem in Paris”, or to discretionary decisions made by isolated referees, soccer leaders are precipitating its fall. “Some day a game will be stopped when people are making monkey calls in the stadium”, declared Frédéric Thiriez, LFP President, in an interview with l’Equipe sports newspaper. Yes, surely some day. But when?

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