How to change this sometimes violent side of the culture of the supporters?

The 2021-2022 season of OGC Nice was marked by incidents from its supporters at the beginning and end, both physical and verbal abuse. In August, during the match against Olympique de Marseille, several Nice supporters entered the Allianz Riviera stadium and one of them tried to hit Marseille’s Dimitri Payet.

Ten days ago, against AS Saint-Etienne, after the defeat of the Nice club in the Coupe de France final against FC Nantes, part of a grandstand sang a song that insulted the memory of the former footballer Emiliano Sala, who died in a plane crash in 2019. An event that led to a general mobilization, from the world of sports to that of politics, who labeled this kind of behavior as “unbearable”.

Practices that can not only be attributed to these Nice supporters, but that stem from a more global culture that consists in seeing this sport as “a battle between two camps where everything is good to destabilize the opponent”, analyzes Nicolas Hourcade. According to this sociologist at the Ecole Centrale de Lyon, a specialist in football supporters, the inhabitants of Nice are still part of “the most virulent groups on a French scale and the most focused on insult and camaraderie”.

“Flaps” justified by “second degree”

This “tradition” actually comes from an influence from other European countries. “In the 80s, ultra groups” [des supporteurs dont le but est de soutenir de manière fanatique son équipe de prédilection] develop, inspired by the Italians. Then they strengthened this side of opposition to the other, of competition, and turned to violence. The goal now is to focus on what hurts the most. And Nice’s proximity to Italy may explain the frequent use of this aggressive register. †

In this contest “of the valve”, recently justified by “humor” and “second degree” by the South Brigade of OGC Nice, discriminatory slogans, especially homophobic, also appear. The specialist continued: “Compared to other groups, the Popular Sud has always claimed to be apolitical, while known as a group of far-right supporters, a political movement that is not leading the way in stopping these discriminatory chants. †

No “direct” intent to target gays

For Yoann Lemaire, president and founder of the Foot Ensemble association and the first footballer to reveal his homosexuality in France in 2003, the supporters want to “lower the other” with this “impression of domination”, but “with no direct intention of striving to gay people”.

“Ultras themselves gay often claim that they were never mistreated or insulted during competitions, he develops. I’m told it’s part of the atmosphere, but you still have to give things a name. It is also due to ignorance. When I talk to supporters about this topic, I am told that after ten minutes I am right. They also claim that if there was a coming out on the field, from a referee or a player, their chants would evolve. Hence the need for a strong symbol. In the meantime, we need to educate and empower supporters. †

The solution would be to “have real legal sanctions by identifying the people to isolate the problem and for example by banning entry to the stadium” and not “closing an entire grandstand”. This, he said, would be the “most effective” way to change this behavior or even mindset.

“Back to society the image in which it should be”

A bigger and more complicated problem to solve for Nicolas Hourcade. “The supporters defend themselves by saying that it is the way we insult in everyday language. But the difference with the stadium is that it has a public scope. This place has always been seen as an outlet, a space of freedom and at night there is a desire to control the audience. When mobilizing against these songs, it is also to convey a broader message, and to say that it is no longer acceptable to downplay these comments. In a way, we want to make society aware that these songs are a problem and send back the image of what it should be. A fairly recent rule.

In 2019, the then Sports Minister, Roxana Maracineanu, was in favor of the referee’s cessation of matches for any discriminatory number. A year earlier, the Professional Football League was involved in the fight against homophobia.

Awareness Workshops

And the fact that it gets known also plays a part. “It marks and shows the certain limits that we cannot cross,” assures the sociologist. In this dimension, Yoann Lemaire underlines the importance of the exemplary work that the Professional Football League and the players are doing by participating in the day against LGBT phobias on 17 May and by answering its questions for documentaries. “A child will see Messi playing with a rainbow colored flocked shirt, symbol of the LGBT community, and integrated that it is normal. A lot of work has already been done.” For five years now, the Foot Ensemble chairman has been traveling through France to train young people in training centers on this subject.

Workshops are planned at OGC Nice “educating to fight all forms of discrimination”, teaches 20 minutes from consistent sources. Coach Christophe Galtier was also part of this year’s campaign clip against homophobia, encouraging football players to come out.

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