How homophobia in football became a major theme of the new season in France

French football’s ongoing problem with homophobia continued on Wednesday after a French game was temporarily suspended for the second time this season due to homophobic chanting from the stands.

The Ligue 1 match between OGC Nice and Marseille was halted for ten minutes after Nice supporters unveiled two banners with homophobic messages. Another banner was unfurled later on in the match, while anti-gay chants were also aimed at the league association (LFP).

One banner referred to Tuesday’s takeover of Nice by Jim Ratcliffe, with a play on words using the term “pedale,” which in French means “to pedal” but can also be used as a homophobic slur. The banner referred to the fact Ratcliffe also owns a cycling team.

The incidents follow another temporary suspension of a game in France earlier this month due to homophobic chanting. During the Ligue 2 match between Nancy and Le Mans, referee Mehdi Mokhtari stopped the game due to homophobic chants heard from the terraces. The referee was praised by France’s secretary of state for equality, Marlene Schiappa, for his actions in tackling the problem.

The LFP sanctioned Nancy with a partial stadium closure. The Piantoni stand, from where the chants were made, will be shut for the next match. The punishment represents new tougher measures from France’s governing body aimed at reducing the scourge of homophobia in the French game.

Anti-homophobia associations in France are working with the LFP to create and establish a list of homophobic words to ban in football stadiums.

Tipping point

Homophobic chanting has been a part of French football for too long and are almost a part of the French fan culture, and have been for a while. Words like ‘enculé’ (f----t) are regularly heard insults from the terraces and there have been calls from LGBT groups and grassroots organisations to clamp down on this for several years.

A tipping point came in March this year when the league introduced new measures to combat the problem.

These included new sanctions such as partial stadium closures and abandoning or temporarily suspending games. Sports minister Roxana Maracineanu vowed to ‘hold clubs responsible’ for tackling homophobia in the stands after a high-profile case occurred in the match between Olympique Marseille and Paris Saint-Germain.

After an incident in April involving further homophobic chanting in the Ligue 2 match between RC Lens and Valenciennes back in April, Maracineanu met Noël Le Graët, president of the French Football Federation to implement the new rules effective this season.

"Homophobic chanting is unacceptable and we must eradicate it from our stadiums," said Nathalie Boy de la Tour, president of the LFP, who pledged to meet with groups within France to develop an action plan to tackle homophobia.

This season the LFP has been very strict in implementing the new policy, with referees stopping games as instructed and several sanctions undertaken by the league.

Fans have however reacted to this in a negative way, with the evidence of the early part of this season showing they have become more provocative and defiant in response to the LFP's efforts, resulting in even more homophobic chants and displays.

"In France, the context has always been tough in stadiums," said Marine Rome, co-president of Les Dégommeuses, a grassroots organisation based in Paris that fights against sexism, homophobia and LGBT-phobia in French sport.

"Homophobia is common and comments like "enculé" (f----t) are accepted. Authorities, journalists have never been keen to tackle the problem, so homophobia was considered "part as of the fan culture". We are fans ourselves, and we strongly disagree with this belief! You can be part of the ultras mouvement and cherish an inclusive and politically committed culture, as demonstrate groups like Sankti Pauli in Germany, or Red Star in France."

"When some of ultras groups display banners with homophobic insults, it makes the stadium a space where you do not feel welcome as a member of the LGBTQ community.

"Nevertheless, things are changing, and we hope for the better. We may not have yet LGBT fans clubs in France, like for instance the Gay Gooners in England, but there is a rising awareness about the importance of creating safe spaces in stadium, where there is no place for sexism, racism or homophobia, or any other discrimination."

So far this season 20 reports of homophobic chanting have been documented at games in France (Ligue 1, Ligue 2 and League Cup).

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