At a time when it has the perfect opportunity to show the best of itself, French football is exhibiting the worst. It may boast the world’s best player, but issues in broader society are manifesting themselves into the local game.
In the past week alone, there have been various lamentable scenes involving fans.
Amid a mass brawl between thugs fighting the police and Lens fans invading the pitch to get to supporters in the away end at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis, a visitor from Ligue 1 champions Lille was apparently pictured masturbating towards the family end of the ground for home supporters.
For his act during the 1-0 win to Lens, he reportedly faces up to a year in prison and a fine that could reach €15,000 ($17,600) if identified and prosecuted for sexual exhibition in a public place.
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Last night brought fresh trouble, with a traveling Marseille contingent breaching a security cordon after a goalless draw with Angers at the Stade Raymond Kopa.
As stewards fell short of controlling the situation, punches were exchanged between both sets of fans as the Angers faithful had also got onto the turf.
This saw equipment damaged, as flares and firecrackers were thrown at each group during the action.
And let’s not forget the fracas on the new season’s opening week that also involved Marseille, when an installment of the Mediterranean Derby with Nice had to be abandoned after Dimitri Payet was hit by a missile. Fans once again made their way onto the pitch, and a Marseille assistant coach was seen punching a matchgoer amid the madness.
🚨⚽️ | NEW: A member of the Marseille staff sparking a Nice fan pic.twitter.com/3lSYBvr5rd
— Football For All (@FootballlForAll) August 22, 2021
— Get French Football News (@GFFN) September 18, 2021
— Get French Football News (@GFFN) September 22, 2021
A request from the prosecutor for a five-year stadium ban and six-month term behind bars for the individual who attacked Payet shows that a soft stance will not be taken against the trouble.
But with the investigation still open into that case that has had a domino effect, footballing and government authorities are chasing their tails to keep up with everything.
These problems could be taken as a byproduct of issues in broader French society that are making their way onto the terraces.
As we have seen in the United States as of late with various knockouts and scuffles at NFL and MLB matches, sports fans around the world are generally letting out their angst after being cooped up in the house away from stadiums thanks to the pandemic and the lockdowns it brought with it.
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Already seen as a people who will take to the streets in protest at the drop of a hat, the ugly side of this culture has reached fever pitch given the pre-pandemic yellow vest protests in France and those on either side of the vaccine debate attacking each other akin to tribal matchgoing fans.
What is sad is that when it should be showing off the best of what it has to offer, French football is exhibiting its worst.
To a backdrop of a television rights war, which nearly imploded the domestic game as Canal+ took on beIN and Amazon, the landing of Lionel Messi as a free agent from FC Barcelona was a major coup not just for PSG, but also the league itself.
Couple the Argentine with other big names such as Neymar and Kylian Mbappe, plus the fact that France are the reigning world champions and are perhaps second only to Brazil for producing young talent, all this should see it rival the Premier League and La Liga for prestige.
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But violence and clashes are overshadowing the quality on display, meaning certain western liberals might also want to look closer to home before throwing stones in glass houses at European neighbors further east such as Hungary.
Yet it remains to be seen how long UEFA can stand idly by while French football destroys itself from within.
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Furthermore, the booing of Mbappe by his own fans at the weekend when he featured against Lyon will do little to stop him heading to La Liga and relieving the national game of one of its marquee talents, while others will be dissuaded from signing up to French clubs to receive the same treatment that as we have seen can result in actual physical confrontation.
Stories of yellow cards for showboating by players such as Lucas Paqueta and Neymar, suffocating the right they have to express themselves and entertain, isn’t a good look for French football either.
But only when they have ironed out these issues might Ligue 1 and French football realize their so evident potential.
By Tom Sanderson
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
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