Crowd problems put future of French football at risk, says minister

Repeated crowd problems in Ligue 1 are putting the future of French football at risk, says France’s sports minister Roxana Maracineanu.

Olympique Lyonnais fans in the stands before the contest against Olympique Marseille. The match was abandoned after crowd trouble.   -  REUTERS

Repeated crowd problems in Ligue 1 are putting the future of French football at risk, French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said after Sunday’s game between Olympique Lyonnais and Olympique Marseille was abandoned due to fan violence.

The French “Olympico” was called off almost two hours after being suspended when Marseille’s Dimitri Payet was hit by a bottle thrown from the Groupama Stadium stands after five minutes of the game. Referee Ruddy Buquet sent the players to the dressing-room after Payet fell to the ground as he was preparing to take a corner kick.

The stadium announcer had initially said the match would restart, following a decision made by local Lyon authorities. This was immediately criticised by the French League (LFP) in a statement, in which the ruling body said it was calling an emergency meeting of its disciplinary commission on Monday.

‘Survival of French football at stake’

It will likely announce provisional sanctions pending a full investigation that could last at least two weeks.

“They have to come to an agreement, this kind of problem is for the League to solve,” Maracineanu told France Info radio on Monday. “I think that everyone must understand that it is the survival of French [football] that is at stake.”

Ligue 1 has been marred by fan violence this season. Nice was docked two points, one of them suspended, after serious incidents during its game in August against Marseille, whose players clashed with home fans who pelted them with missiles and stormed onto the pitch.

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The northern derby between RC Lens and Lille was hit by crowd problems in September, with the start of the second half delayed by about half an hour after rival fans threw objects at each other before people ran on to the pitch, prompting riot police and stewards to intervene.

There has also been crowd trouble in Montpellier, Angers, Marseille and St Etienne.

Maracineanu warned that the incidents were a threat to French professional football’s finances. “We cannot allow that a broadcaster who has bought rights must just keep the conversation moving for more than an hour like they did last night when we do not know if the match is going to continue, it is a world where millions of euros are at stake,” she said.

“We have helped the [football] world during the health crisis to allow the return of fans in the stadiums, we cannot allow things like that to happen.”

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