French Football Under Threat After Marseillaise Jeering

It seems the French football team can now be beaten in international matches if opposing supporters insult the national anthem.

That would appear to be the conclusion of a massive overreaction by French politicians to the jeering and whistling of la Marseillaise by Tunisian supporters at the start of a recent football friendly game between their side and the French national team. No-one disagrees that the whistling by Tunisian supporters was insulting and disrespectful, but the solution to the problem offered by French politicians smacks of somewhat excessive indignation. Following the incident last month, the Minister of Sports Roselyne Bachelot, the Secretary of State for Sport Bernard Laporte, and the President of the Fédération française de football (FFF) Jean-Pierre Escalettes, were all summoned to the Elysee Palace the next morning by President Sarkozy. At the end of the meeting, echoing the words of President Sarkozy, Roselyne Bachelot announced that, in future, insults to the national anthem would result in the game being abandoned. Just how she was proposing to evacuate a stadium of up to 80,000 supporters she did not explain. If she felt whistling at the national anthem was a problem, it might be nothing to the trouble that would inevitably ensue at the forced evacuation of a football stadium of supporters! With the stern glare of the omnipresent President Sarkozy bearing down upon him, Jean-Pierre Escalettes commented that whilst it would be ‘difficult (to clear the stadium) would not be impossible’. Neither did Bernard Laporte beg to differ, although he has taken a slightly different tack, by stating that the games against the former Arab colonies should be played in the provinces, rather than in the Stade de France. The stadium happens to be located in the troubled Paris suburb of Saint Denis, home of many tens of thousands of France’s Arab population. However, in giving as his reason that this would enable the matches to be played in front of a ‘safe public’, he has been accused of racism and xenophobia. Laporte has a habit of putting his foot in his mouth, not least when he denied recently being the father of the child of currently pregnant Minister of Justice Rachida Dati, when no-one had made such a public accusation! (The father of the child remains a mystery, with Rachida Dati merely responding that her ‘private life was complicated.’) In an effort to try to redeem himself, and no doubt to head off unrest in the streets, Laporte later announced that measures would be introduced to improve the quality of life in the suburbs. ‘Jeering at la Marseillaise shows there is a problem in the suburbs,’ he stated. ‘It shows there is a problem of identity amongst the young, and that is why I am going to make proposals to help them, to accompany them, and to go into the suburbs.’ Quite why the Minister of Sports was making announcements on urban renewal no-one quite understands, except to make amends for his earlier gaff. We also still await details of his proposals. The only person of seniority to stand up and tell the government they are talking rubbish is the President of UEFA, Michel Platini, the former French football captain and 1998 World Cup winner. Platini commented that: ‘Football is being taken hostage by the politicians', whilst Laporte responded firmly by telling him to keep his nose out of it! ‘I understand Michel Platini, for whom I have a lot of respect,' he said, 'but, to whistle the Marseillaise is punishable by a fine of €7,500 and up to six month’s imprisonment. That is not the job of the President of UEFA. Everyone has their boundary’, he thundered. The government have launched an official police inquiry into the incident, with the Interior Minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, announcing that culprits identified from the video footage will be banned from future matches. As there were around 40,000 Tunisian supporters at the match, there could well be plenty of tickets available next time the sides meet. This is not the first time this sort of jeering of the French national anthem by Arab and other supporters has occurred. One incident in 2005 provoked the then President Jacques Chirac to leave the stadium. Whilst Bernard Laporte was at the match against Tunisia, he remained firmly in his seat throughout the whole match, despite having threatened the previous day to walk out should the anthem be abused. With the coverage this incident has received around the world, the stance by the French government is also now likely to incite supporters of every other nation on the planet to provoke a reaction from the authorities, as the FIFA rules would result in an automatic 3-0 defeat for the injured nation! You can see a clip of the incident that has caused on the fuss here.

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