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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Spain thrown out of 2023 Rugby World Cup

Spain have been thrown out of the 2023 Rugby World Cup for fielding an ineligible South African-born player during the qualifying stages and will be replaced by Romania, World Rugby announced on Thursday.

Spain thrown out of 2023 Rugby World Cup

“Subject to Spain’s right of appeal, the 10-point deduction applied to the Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification table means that Romania will qualify as Europe 2 into Pool B replacing Spain,” read the statement.

Portugal — who Spain beat to seal their place in the global showpiece in France next year — replace Romania in the Final Qualification Tournament taking place in November 2022.

“Spain has a right of appeal within 14 days of the date of the full written decision of the committee,” read the statement.

According to Spanish media in March, the player under investigation was South African-born prop Gavin van den Berg, who has been playing in Spain since 2018.

He played twice against the Netherlands, in 2020 and 2021, in qualifiers, but he may not seemingly have served the three years of residency needed to become eligible under World Rugby rules.

Spain, Romania and Belgium were all sanctioned in 2018 for having fielded ineligible players, opening the way for Russia to qualify for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.