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Would football be better off without spectators?

The scene ignited social media. On August 22, in the middle of a Ligue 1 match between OGC Nice and Olympique de Marseille, the international Dimitri Payet, with rage on his lips, threw the bottle of water at the Nice supporters that they had just throw him in the back. In a few seconds, it’s chaos: invasion of the field, fight between spectators and players… and premature end of the match whistled by the referee. The season has just started, but this is not the first incident of this kind. Nor the last.

In December, it was the Ultras of Paris-Saint-Germain and those of Olympique Lyonnais who offered a memorable beating the day after a high-level meeting between the Minister of the Interior, the Keeper of the Seals, the Minister Delegate for Sports and the highest authorities of professional football to decide on “concrete measures and validate the pursuit of constructive and joint work”, with a view to combating violence in stadiums!

Faced with these ever more uncontrollable supporters and resulting sporting sanctions, in particular defeats on green carpet, exclusion from certain competitions or matches behind closed doors, some big clubs could well dream purely and simply of a championship without spectator… After all, revenue from matches – ticketing and consumption in the stadium – represents only 10% of their income, compared to 50% for TV rights and the rest for sponsorship and player transfer fees. would allow them, at a lower cost, to ensure a calmer competition.

If this perspective makes its way into the minds of some leaders, it nevertheless stands as the scarecrow to flee at all costs. “It happened to us a few times to be forced to limit or completely suppress the flow of spectators, says Thibaut Delaunay, head of the National Division for the Fight against Hooliganism, but it is always the last solution, the most unfortunate. “. This entity dependent on the Ministry of the Interior was also set up to avoid in particular reaching such an end.

The 2020-2021 season and its deserted stadiums due to Covid showed it: football without spectators is no longer really football. All the actors, players and viewers of the world’s most popular sport have seen it. Beyond purely financial considerations, no one wants to relive this situation, even despite the record excesses that have marked the return of supporters to the stands.

“We expected a difficult recovery after more than a year of frustration, continues Thibaud Delaunay, but despite the preparatory work, we were surprised by the extent of the incidents. ” In question, he admits, the importance given to health measures, to the detriment undoubtedly on security measures. “Because it is a boiling population that inaugurated the 2021-2022 season. “What I felt when I went to the stadium was a stronger excitement than usual, both positive and negative,” testifies sociologist Nicolas Hourcade.

This fan specialist believes that we still lack perspective to analyze recent events, but says he is convinced that “this violence is not all of the same order and therefore does not call for the same answers, because it is not specific to France and are not the prerogative of football. »

The current violence is also the consequence of these 18 months of health crisis. As in the catering industry, security companies are going through a human resources crisis: loss of experience and skills, dispersal of employees, difficulty in recruiting new ones. Result: “The clubs have encountered real difficulties with the private companies they call on to provide security during the matches and which have experienced a great turnover of personnel, notes Thierry Delaunay. At the start of the season, it was not uncommon for clubs to find themselves with security personnel reduced by 10% compared to what they had planned. »

Nicolas Hourcade also points to the lack of solidarity between the stakeholders: “In France, since August, everyone has passed the buck. The Professional Football League and the clubs affirm that it is up to the public authorities to act, the public authorities answer that it is up to the clubs to do it and to the League to take its responsibilities. In theory, everything that happens in the stadium is the responsibility of the host club and everything that happens outside the stadium is the responsibility of the public authorities. But in some, given the risks of possible slippage, the club is not able to ensure security alone and must turn to the police for support. The latter may, for example, take prior administrative measures, such as limiting the number of supporters or prohibiting some of them from entering the stadium.

The English example, recalls Nicolas Hourcade, demonstrated: “It is not by sanctioning the clubs, with fines or behind closed doors that English football has solved some of its problems. It is by sanctioning and dismissing violent individuals from the stadiums. “So that in any case it will be necessary to respond to” a greater challenge with football, rebounds Thierry Delaunay, “because no other sport attracts so many people around a single event. With great popularity comes great responsibility.

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