Shocking Rise in Fan Disorder Leaves Ligue 1 in Existential Crisis | League 1

Tit was to be a season of celebration and new cheers for the French league. Not only would the crowds return to the stadiums after a year of closed-door matches, but Lionel Messi’s arrival at Paris Saint-Germain has guaranteed unprecedented global interest in Ligue 1. Three months later, France is in shock and embarrassed and the discourse between the authorities is existential order. crisis.

A wave of fan violence since the start of the season has led the president of the Professional Football League (LFP), Vincent Labrune, to denounce “gangrene that could kill us”, while the French Minister of Sports, the former swimming champion Roxana Maracineanu, said: “Every time I go to a stadium [to watch a Ligue 1 match] I tell myself that it’s a good thing that my son is interested in rugby rather than football.

Maracineanu was speaking the day after last Sunday’s match between Lyon and Marseille, canceled after Marseille midfielder Dimitri Payet was hit in the head by a bottle thrown by a supporter.

It was the second time this season that Payet was attacked on the pitch. After the first time, in Nice in August, he threw the bottle back into the crowd, an instinctive retaliation that was interpreted by dozens of fans as an invitation to storm the pitch, culminating in an extraordinary scene involving spectators, players and staff.

Marseille was also involved in the first unrest episode of the season, when Montpellier supporters bombarded traveling supporters with missiles on the opening weekend. The following month, a bus carrying Bordeaux supporters was ambushed in Montpellier in an attack that left 16 injured.

Marseillais Dimitri Payet is hit by a bottle of water thrown by a Lyon supporter. Photography: Benoît Tessier / Reuters

On the same day, Marseille and Angers fans battled in the stadium after a 0-0 draw and Metz fans took to the pitch after a late winner against their side by Paris Saint-Germain.

All of this occurred a week after a row on the pitch between Lille supporters and Lensiens delayed the North Derby by half an hour. Nine Ligue 1 matches have been disrupted or abandoned this season. The questions that the authorities have difficulty answering are why this rage and what to do about it?

One popular explanation is that football violence is a consequence of the lockdown imposed when the Covid pandemic was at its peak, that people are now releasing pent-up frustrations. “A football stadium is a reflection of the state of our society,” Labrune told L’Equipe this week. “And our society after the health crisis is not doing well: it is worried, worried, disunited, quarrelsome and – it must be said – a little crazy.”

But a similar diagnosis could be made for many other countries that do not experience fan violence on a similar scale. Why do French stadiums hurt so badly? Again, the lockdown has been accused of weakening the clubs’ ability to cope with the mess. In a year of closed-door matches, stewards had to find other jobs and many of the more experienced did not return, leaving less savvy substitutes to face more cantankerous people. Some clubs have also been accused of skimping on security measures as they cut costs during the Covid era.

Most of the time, however, clubs have been accused of failing to crack down on the bad behavior of their most ardent fans, or ultras, for fear of alienating them. It has been noted how reluctant club managers have been to criticize their own supporters after even the most egregious infractions and how easily they have tried to blame elsewhere or downplay the problems.

Security staff hold riot shields to protect Paris Saint-Germain's Neymar from objects thrown by Marseille supporters
Security personnel hold riot shields to protect Paris Saint-Germain’s Neymar from objects thrown by Marseille supporters. Photograph: Eric Gaillard / Reuters

Clubs, the LFP, police and politicians have blamed each other for obstructing or ignoring solutions. That it took two hours for the Lyon-Marseille match to be abandoned after the attack on Payet left viewers perplexed and revealed the lack of determination and unity between the various authorities.

Last Tuesday, the government met with the football authorities to resolve this issue. “We have been calling for such a meeting since August,” said Labrune, who complained that the LFP had become “the punching bag of the system” and needed more powers to do something other than apply its stock reaction to the violence, which is to order matches. to play behind closed doors.

Maracineanu certainly did not minimize the importance of the meeting, declaring in advance: “Everyone must understand that the survival of French football is at stake. It is a world where millions of euros are at stake. We cannot afford that a broadcaster that has bought rights has to fill the void like [TV commentators] did last night for an hour when we weren’t sure if the game was going to continue. We cannot collectively allow ourselves to continue like this.

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On Friday, Maracineanu deigned to attend another match, Lens’s 2-2 draw against Angers, and said plans to reduce stadium violence hinged on three approaches: improving security, giving referees more power to react to fan problems and to broaden the range of sanctions that the league can impose.

She also appealed to the ultras. “We need the leaders of the fan groups to control their troops. I appeal to fan groups: we need you and we must act together to bring peace to the stadiums.

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