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The French football league 1 was counting on the arrival of Lionel Messi at PSG to revive interest in its championship, but the serious incidents at the Nice/Marseille match further damaged the reputation of French football.

The Nice/Marseille derby was the highlight of the third matchday of the League 1 of football on Sunday evening. Thirty-two thousand spectators – a record attendance at Nice’s Allianz Arena – were present at the start of the match. More than half of them had fled when, at around midnight, the referee stopped the match for good because the Marseille players had left after an hour and a half of stoppage time due to pitch invasion and fights. There was fifteen minutes of normal time left to play,

On Monday, the public prosecutor’s office in Nice announced that it had opened an investigation, but had not yet taken anyone into custody. “A red line has been crossed in terms of violence against players,” the French sports minister Roxana Maracineanu said.

Fights among fans and presidents

The triggering incident came in the 75th minute when Marseille’s player Dimitri Payet was injured by one of the many water-filled plastic bottles he received every time he took a corner. This time he decided to throw it back at the Nice supporters. Furious, many of them overran the stewards and descended on the pitch.

Blows were exchanged at various points on the pitch between players and staff of both teams, supporters and stewards. The referee sent the players back to the changing rooms. Only the Nice players came out for an hour and a half with the aim of finishing the match, apparently at the request of the prefectural services “for questions of public order”. “This is not acceptable for us, we are going back to Marseille”, the Marseille president stated. He himself and the Nice president had clashed in the VIP box and had to be separated by bodyguards.

Instead of calming things down, the two presidents continued to blame each other for the incidents. On Monday morning, the mayors of Marseille and Nice did the same, taking up the cause of their respective teams and accusing their opponents.

According to Lyon sociologist Nicolas Hourcade, these serious incidents and the reaction of those involved show that “football has returned to where it was before the COVID crisis, but with more excess due to this deprivation for a year and a half. We have the impression that the stadium has become an outlet even more than before.”

The fiasco of the TV rights

The images are terrible, and the repercussions on the reputation of French football, which is considered internationally as a simple “breeding ground for players”, could be disastrous. The French League 1 is in fact threatened with bankruptcy after Médiapro’s TV rights rout and the early demise of the Téléfoot channel, which has put many sports journalists out of work. So far, French viewers are not flocking to the new main broadcaster, Prime Video, which acquired the rights at a reduced price but has set its subscriptions at a high price.

The French League 1 felt that the transfer of Lionel Messi to PSG came at the right time to revalue, at least symbolically, its TV rights and its worldwide value. It may have just received another bullet in the foot and the warlike reaction of the different players does not promise a quick recovery.

Nice, which was leading by 1-0 at the time of the incidents, was declared the winner on the green carpet by 3-0. However, a meeting at the summit is planned at the league’s headquarters to clarify the facts. Two previous matches in the French League 1 have been stopped early due to fights, Metz/Lyon in 2016 and Bastia/Lyon in 2017. On both occasions, the host club was sanctioned. On Monday evening, it was Nice whose security services were seriously questioned.

Source: Jean-Paul Savart| AIPS EC Member

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