Why is the violence escalating in France’s football stadiums?

VMany people outside of the football world in France are rubbing their eyes: the return of the fans to the stadiums after a year and a half of a corona-related forced break has not only brought joy but also a series of riots and violent riots on the pitch with injured people. Is that just pent-up frustration after a hard lockdown that is making its way there? Or is the fan culture changing – and how do the clubs deal with it? In any case, the imposition of sanctions by the football league has not yet restored peace in the ranks.

As sociologist and fan researcher Nicolas Hourcade says, it is difficult to say whether the phenomenon is transitory or structural. It is something different when fans fight or when they throw objects at players and everything does not have the same trigger. If it is just about corona frustration, the violence must subside with the normalization of life, he told the channel France bleu. But it could also be that it is structurally an increasing radicalization of parts of the fans. “It’s too early to say that.”

The series of riots in Ligue 1 began on August 22nd at the derby of the two hostile supporters of OGC Nice and Olympique Marseille, where after provocations fans ran onto the pitch and supporters, officials and players were violent. The media then spoke of the “shame of Nice”. Experts were surprised that this did not trigger a healing shock, but that the problems repeated in further games, said Hourcade. It may have contributed to the fact that those responsible for the organization of risk games during the corona restrictions got a little out of the routine.

Harsh sanctions against three clubs

The disciplinary committee of the soccer league in Paris reacted last week with sanctions that affect the clubs and fans involved as a whole. One point each was deducted on probation for the RC Lens, OSC Lille and Olympique Marseille. Marseille and Lille fans are also not allowed to go to away games until the end of the year. Previously, as a temporary measure, individual games had already taken place without fans.

In the match between RC Lens and champions Lille, the series of violence continued on September 18, when fans of both clubs fought a scuffle on the field and several blood-covered injuries had to be removed by ambulance. The game was only restarted half an hour late after the crisis had been discussed. Finally, fan brawls also overshadowed the Angers SCO game against Marseille on September 22nd, when objects flew through the air.

Are the hooligans back?

The head of the national unit against football violence (DNLH), which is subordinate to the Ministry of the Interior, Thibaut Delaunay, does not want to speak of a resurgence of the hooligan movement in France. But there are individuals and also ultras who take over some behavior from hooligans, including violence. “But they go to the stadium and stay connected to their club,” said Delauny of the sports newspaper “L’Équipe”. The clubs are sometimes too considerate of some ultras, he warns. The rioters would have to be expelled from the stands, the legal and practical tools were available and only had to be used.

Fan expert Hourcade believes that collective sanctions make sense if a club has an organizational problem. As a general punishment, however, they are difficult because they punish a large number of fans who have not done anything. The sanctions thus failed to achieve their goal. What is needed are penalties for serious behavior, better organization around the games and a dialogue between all those involved in order to defuse the tensions.

The riot series has definitely damaged the public image of football, as a survey for the broadcaster RTL shows. For only 35 percent of the French, football has a good image, 10 percentage points less than six months earlier. 53 percent of those surveyed stated that they are no longer safe in a stadium and people with children in particular shy away from visiting the stadium.

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