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‘Too many’ matches stopped over homophobic chants, says head of French football

Franck Fife, AFP | Paris Saint-Germain supporters hold a banner reading "Stop ultraphobia" (the term "ultras" refers to diehard, often rowdy football fans) during a Ligue 1 match against Toulouse at the Parc des Princes stadium in Paris, August 25, 2019.

The head of French football said on Friday that "too many matches" have been stopped due to homophobic chants and banners, despite public outcry over a series of anti-gay incidents since the start of the 2019-2020 season.

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Noël Le Graët, president of the French Football Federation (FFF), said that the FFF would not instruct referees to stop matches except in cases when a "whole stadium" was guilty of homophobic chanting.

"I think we're stopping too many matches! That makes certain government ministers happy, but it bothers me. Football can't be taken hostage by vulgarity," said Le Graët in an interview with regional newspaper Ouest-France.

"Matches have been stopped when they shouldn't have been," Le Graët continued. "We will stop them if there is consistent homophobic abuse from the whole ground, but if among 30,000 people there are 2,000 imbeciles I don't see why the other 28,000 should be punished."

Since the start of the French football season less than a month ago on August 9, there have been at least 20 cases of fans chanting homophobic slurs or showing anti-gay banners during domestic games. By contrast, there were 111 incidents of homophobic abuse in England over the course of the entire 2017-2018 season, according to Kick It Out, a British pressure group for equality in the sport.

Le Graët’s organisation changed rules to allow matches to be stopped

Ironically, it was the body run by Le Graët, the FFF (Fédération française de football), which put in place new rules before the start of the 2019-2020 football season  to allow referees to halt games in response to fans’ displays of homophobia.

For years, fans faced no consequences for engaging in the homophobic chanting common in French football, such as the use of the swear word "enculé," which carries unmistakably anti-gay connotations.

However, the FFF was prompted to act after France’s Sport Minister Roxana Maracineau expressed outrage over fans’ anti-gay chants during Le Classique – the clash between bitter rivals PSG and Marseille – in March.

Saying that this sort of chanting made her want to stop taking her children to football matches, Maracineau expressed further shock over another case of homophobic chanting during a match between Lens and Valenciennes in April – leading the FFF to create new rules.

France’s Minister for Equality Marlène Schiappa publicly praised referee Clément Turpin after he stopped Marseille's 2-1 win at Nice for over 10 minutes in August in response to anti-gay chants and the unfurling of homophobic banners by home fans.

PSG’s match at Metz two days later was also briefly halted because of two banners displayed by the hosts' supporters: one reading “I won’t be on TV because my words are too gay”, the other saying “PSG, FFF, let me sing and tell you to go f*ck yourselves!”

‘The crisis will resolve itself’, says Le Graët

But Le Graët argued that a laissez-faire approach from politicians would be the best way to deal with the issue.

"Did football invent homophobia?” he asked, adding that “there are more important political issues”.

"This crisis will resolve itself,” the head of the FFF continued. “We will work with club presidents – people who don’t interfere every morning, who don't just want to  look good for the television cameras."

These statements provoked a fierce response from Maracineau, who wrote in a Facebook post on Saturday that she was “astonished” by Le Graët’s words, before warning that “it must be remembered that homophobia is considered a form of discrimination in our society”.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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