What is France doing to stop a surge in football violence?

France's interior ministry has called a meeting with French football representatives to discuss tougher sanctions after a string of violent incidents in Ligue 1 that have seen matches abandoned.

Marseille midfielder, Dimitri Payet, leaves the field after being injured by a projectile. The French authorities are pushing for a crackdown on football violence.
Marseille midfielder, Dimitri Payet, leaves the field after being injured by a projectile. The French authorities are pushing for a crackdown on football violence. (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP)

In the latest incident on Sunday, a bottle was thrown from the stands at Marseille captain Dimitri Payet, heading him on the head. Four men were arrested and the match was eventually abandoned. 

“What happened in Lyon is unacceptable,” wrote Sports Minister, Roxana Maracineanu, on Twitter. “We need punishment and a general, immediate and radical change of mentality for everyone involved in football.” 

READ ALSO French football match abandoned after bottle thrown from crowd

Sunday’s violence followed a string of incidents, at least nine in total, that have blighted French football this season. 

In August, during one of the first games back after 18-months of Covid-induced empty stadiums, Valentin Rogier, another Marseille player, was cut on the face by a bottle launched by a Montpellier fan. 

A pitch invasion two weeks later saw Nice fans trade blows with Marseille players – Payet was, again, at the centre of the action after hurling a projectile back into the crowd.

In September the northern derby between Lens and Lille was delayed for about an hour as fans scuffled in the stands. 

A Nice fan fights with Marseille players during the French Ligue 1 clash in August
A Nice fan fights with Marseille players during the French Ligue 1 clash in August (Photo by Valery HACHE / AFP)

Maracineanu will meet with the Interior Minister, Gérald Darmanin and representatives of French footballing authorities on Tuesday. 

Tougher sanctions

The French Sports Minister has called for tougher sanctions for those committing acts of violence in football grounds. 

Currently, perpetrators are subject to regular French criminal law codes and a special set of laws that are only applicable inside sports grounds. Two of those arrested following Sunday’s violence were held for ‘violence with an improvised weapon in a sporting arena.’ 

If the government were to change criminal sentencing for football violence offences specifically, it would have to adapt the sports code. 

In response to growing violence in French football, a number of MPs launched a parliamentary bill last month in a bid to double the maximum length of stadium bans, to ten years. They have called for bans to be issued more freely to violent fans, noting that France has only banned 500 people from grounds, against 3,000 in Germany and 10,000 in England. 

Suspension of matches

Maracineanu has also called for the automatic suspension of matches where violence breaks out. This has not always been the case so far this season. 

The Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP), the authority which runs professional football leagues in France, has already deducted points from teams and imposed temporary closed-stadium rules, whereby matches are played behind closed doors. 

In August, the LFP has asked the government for greater legal powers to punish teams whose fans behave badly. 

Increased policing

Back in October, the Sports ministry sent a letter to French football authorities reminding them of the arsenal of laws at their disposal to fight against violence in the stands. 

In this letter, they said that they wanted to create a ‘national unit for coordination and security’ to tackle violence at football matches. This group would be essentially be composed of police and gendarmes tasked with identifying and arresting offenders. It would be managed by the Interior Ministry and the Justice Ministry, alongside the Sports Ministry. 

Maracineanu has also previously evoked the possibility of giving extra training to security staff at football matches. 

Facial recognition

Facial recognition software to identify previous offenders from entering grounds has already been trialled in the Champions League.

The controversial technology was tested by FC Metz in 2020 during a match against Strasbourg. It was dropped after football supporter associations protested the legality of such a measure. Much facial recognition software is prone to error – particularly among certain ethnic minority groups. It is unlikely that it will be systematically introduced in to French football any time soon. 

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Paris suburbs see third night of violence

The Parisian suburbs of Sevran, Aulnay-sous-Bois and Tremblay-en-France have seen clashes between residents and police, ever since an officer shot and killed the driver of a stolen van on Saturday.

Paris suburbs see third night of violence

Angry residents and police clashed for a third night in suburbs north of Paris, leading to 13 arrests following the fatal shooting of a father-of-four by an officer at the weekend, police said Tuesday.

Despite a heavy police presence to prevent further violence, several cars, a dozen bins and an abandoned sports centre were set alight overnight in the low-income Sevran, Aulnay-sous-Bois and Tremblay-en-France suburbs, a police source told AFP.

The unrest began Saturday after a police officer fatally shot the driver of a van that had been reported stolen and was being inspected at a traffic light in Sevran at around lunchtime.

The officer was hospitalised afterwards “in a state of shock,” local prosecutor Eric Mathais said Sunday, while internal police investigators have opened a probe into the incident.

Local people who knew the man named as Jean-Paul told AFP that he had taken a van owned by his employer who owed him wages.

They have also questioned how the officer could justify opening fire when his life was not in danger, which is the only justification for using a weapon under French law.

A protest march by the dead man’s family is expected in the next few days.

Residents in France’s multiracial suburbs often complain about heavy-handed policing methods and violence that have led to a series of scandals in recent years, including the February 2017 arrest of a black man who was allegedly sodomised with a police baton.

Police unions say officers often face hostility and attacks, and are faced with the difficult task of trying to maintain order in impoverished high-rise housing estates that in some cases are centres of drug dealing and other criminality.

The French government began a public consultation in February aimed at devising ways to increase public confidence in the police.