The trouble with French football (1/12/2021)

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We’ve had quite a few discussions about French politics in the last couple of newsletters, so I thought I would talk about something different for a change: French football! (Aka soccer for those North Americans out there).

Now don’t tune out, I’m not going to analyze Kylian Mbappé’s goal-scoring abilities or Lionel Messi’s free kicks. This is more about the state of French football, which is by far the sport that attracts the most amount of news coverage and hand-wringing in France.

Now the Football Ligue 1 has many self-inflicted problems, including a busted TV rights deal that was supposed to be worth over €1 billion 2 years ago, which is now being brandied about at 70% off. But their latest self-inflicted problem involves rowdy fans and objects being thrown onto players:

This video was taken on Aug 22, 2021 from the Olympique de Marseille – OGC Nice game played in Nice.

Niçois fan clubs of supporters threw a bottles of water and other objects from a distance onto Marseille Captain Dimitri Payet’s back. He threw one bottle back, and the next thing you knew crowds of Niçois supporters were on the field.

So what happened after that? Basically the Marseillais player Payet got suspended for throwing the bottle back and OGC Nice got a slap on the wrist. And the supporters? Nothing, nada, zippo.

As you can imagine, given the lack of actual consequences, there have been several subsequent similar incidents. It has been averaging about one per week since then, all across Ligue 1. (I won’t start posting videos of them all, because then we will be here for a really long time!)

And just a few days ago, another new low during the Olympique Lyon-Marseille game, where Payet (who is always a favorite target) got hit in the head this time with a bottle, and remained on the ground for a good 10-15 minutes.

This was not the 1st water bottle thrown during the game that was taking place in Lyon, this was just the 1st one that hit him. (He is now fine, and has subsequently played in another match.)

That particular game was called off, after 2 hours of back and forth between the referee and the Lyon team owner, which is a disgrace in itself. The guy who threw that particular bottle was arrested and given probation.

But up to now, which is 9 days later, nobody else has been given anything more than a slap in the wrist by Ligue 1. Not the other supporters throwing objects, nor the Lyon football club whose job it is to ensure security, nor anyone else.

You would think they would have cameras in the stadium to find the troublemakers to ban them from the stadium (like they do in England). At a minimum, they could put up those large nets that you see in baseball stadiums and at NFL games to keep out fly balls and flying projectiles. But apparently we have a serious shortage of nets and intelligence on this side of the Atlantic.

Compare this to the recent NBA incident where Lebron James got a couple of Pacer fans kicked out of the stadium for “merely” trash-talking. (If you want to know what the trash-talking is in French stadiums, you can read about the varieties of insults here.)

So where does Ligue 1 go from here? They are apparently “reflecting on what to do”, three months after the 1st incident this season. And their first stop was to call the French Minister of Sports to try to tackle this problem for them. (I know, I said no politics in this newsletter, but this is France: When there is a problem, we call the govt.)

To be clear, this isn’t new, you can find similar videos on the web dating back decades. This is merely a problem that has gotten worse over the past few years, and especially since the Nice-Marseille game back in August at the start of the season.

And we’re not even talking about the routinely ongoing problem of fireworks and smoke-bombs being lit in stadiums which apparently “adds to the ambiance”:

You think some insurance companies would get worked up about fires being lit. I should note, these are privately-run stadiums and multi-million €uro clubs should be able to afford basic security to keep such devices out.

Even Roxana Maracineanuthe Minister of Sport, says she takes her 5-year-old son to rugby matches rather than football because of the security problems. And I can’t say I disagree with her.

Apparently the govt. and Ligue 1 is going to come up with some new proposals in the next couple of weeks, so fingers crossed. Let’s all hope the next time I talk about football in France in a newsletter, it is not due to a bigger tragedy.

In other news:

  • The luminous Josephine Baker was inducted into the Pantheon on Tuesday night. Born in St. Louis, Missouri, she came to France at the young age of 20. She would go on to become a legendary performer in the 1930s and more importantly, an active member of the French Resistance during WWII. The Guardian had a fascinating look at her work as a spy during WWII, which is definitely worth a read.
  • Le Petit Robert dictionary decided to add “iel”, a gender inclusive pronoun, and French First Lady Brigitte Macron, Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquier, and a whole host of “French language experts” had a meltdown.
  • French Prime Minister Jean Castex is isolating for the 3rd time after yet another exposure to the virus that refuses to go away. And just like that, the booster has now become obligatory for anyone wishing to keep their French pass sanitaire.

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