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SPORTS

Sports Minister Wants Sanctions after French Soccer Violence

November 22, 2021

PARIS (AP) — French soccer needs a “radical” reality check following more crowd trouble in the league match between Lyon and Marseille, the country’s sports minister said Monday.

The violence on Sunday was the latest in a series of disturbing episodes in France.

“What happened in Lyon is unacceptable,” sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said. “We need sanctions and a general, immediate and radical awareness of all soccer actors.”

The match was halted and then abandoned after a fan hit Marseille player Dimitri Payet on the head with a bottle filled with water in the fourth minute, with the score 0-0.

“Dimitri Payet has my full support,” Maracineanu said. “We cannot allow players to be assaulted in this way. Such acts should result in an automatic stoppage of games at the very least.”

Similar incidents have marred domestic soccer since the start of the season, many of them involving Marseille, and the French league said it is “destroying the image of the league in France and internationally.”

In August, a match between Nice and Marseille was abandoned after fans threw projectiles and invaded the field. Payet was also hit by a bottle in that game and threw it back at the supporters. Players and staff members were also involved in a brawl. Nice was subsequently deducted two points, with one point suspended.

Earlier in the season, Montpellier fans threw projectiles at Marseille players with Valentin Rongier sustaining a cut to his lip. In September, Angers and visiting Marseille supporters ran onto the field and fought.

Marseille, which is owned by American businessman Frank McCourt, also faced a mutiny of its own fans in January when a few hundred forced their way into the club’s training complex hours before a league game. After the incident, McCourt linked the violence to bigger society issues, comparing the supporters’ protests to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Lyon said in a statement that the man who threw the bottle at Payet was identified via video-surveillance cameras and handed over to police after being removed by stewards. The seven-time champions insisted that the man was not a member of an official fan group and was not a season ticket holder. Lyon said it filed a judicial complaint against the individual and would like to ban him for life.

According to L’Equipe newspaper, four people have been arrested following Sunday’s match.

The French league condemned the attack on Payet, adding that he was also on the receiving end of “insults of a discriminatory nature.”

Following an urgent meeting of its disciplinary commission, the league said Lyon will have to play its home matches without fans until a final sanction is approved on Dec. 8. The league will also need to decide whether the match against Marseille should be replayed.

Other clubs have been affected by crowd trouble this season.

In September, fans ran onto the field in Lens in the northern derby with Lille, and fighting broke out in the stands. During a game between PSG and Lyon, a teenager was injured by a seat thrown.

In October, a match between Saint-Etienne and Angers was delayed for about an hour because fans ran onto the field and threw flares onto the playing surface before kickoff.

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