A League Two soccer match between the French cities of Nancy and Le Mans was paused after minute 27, when the referee decided to use a new French Football Federation rule to contain homophobic chants coming from the stadium on Aug. 16, 2019.
The chants contained extremely vulgar French slurs relating to sodomy. The defense for allowing these slurs in the soccer stadium is that the words can have many meanings and are still frequently heard on the streets. The FFF’s new regulation—which allows the halting of games due to homophobia—was primarily in response to the French government’s push to end the use of homophobic slurs.
Referee Mehdi Mokhtari was the first to use the new rule, created in an attempt to stop fans from frequently chanting homophobic slurs during soccer games in France. French Sports Minister Roxana Maracineanu, an architect of the anti-discrimination policy, tweeted her support for the referee soon after the match. “It’s a first,” Maracineau tweeted. “And a last, I hope.”
The Nancy-Le Mans match, contrary to Maracineanu’s hopes, was not the last time the new law was used by referees. Brest-Reims and Monaco-Nîmes matches were briefly stopped for the same reason. During a soccer match in Lille, similar chanting was reported.
The controversy grew when League One Nice-Marseille match was stopped for more than 10 minutes due to fans holding large banners with veiled homophobic insults. Administrators, referees and security personnel attempted to contain a stadium filled with chants and insults. Fans expressed discontent with changes in team ownership and stadium policy regarding the new regulations on speech during soccer games. Rennes-PSG, while not stopped by referees, was also embroiled in the homophobia controversy.
In total, at least 20 recorded incidents of homophobia resulting in the halting of a soccer match have been recorded by officials since the French soccer season began on Aug. 9.
There is debate dividing the French soccer community about whether stopping matches is a fair solution to homophobia, as well as what kind of reaction to the homophobic slurs is appropriate in these situations.
President of the FFF Noël Le Graët said “too many matches” have been stopped in relation to the new regulations, according to France 24. “That makes certain government ministers happy, but it bothers me. Football can’t be taken hostage by vulgarity. Matches have been stopped when they shouldn’t have been. We will stop them if there is consistent homophobic abuse from the whole group, but if among 30,000 people there are 2,000 imbeciles I don’t see why the other 28,000 should be punished.”
Le Graët also called the regulation “a mistake” and reported no more matches will be stopped for homophobia.
“I would stop a match for racist chants,” Le Graët said. “I would stop a match for fighting or if there were a dangerous situation in the stands.” The FFF’s president clarified that, for him, homophobia and racism “are not the same thing.”
There is discrepancy in reactions to racist and homophobic language.
“I think there are a lot of French people who would disagree with what Le Graët is saying,” a French university student told Vanguard. “You could call your friend [a homophobic French slur] if he beat you at FIFA or drank some of your beer. It’s still said frequently. A lot of people don’t consider it homophobic, or at least they don’t admit it. It’s embedded in our language…I think most people don’t use it to be homophobic, they just use it as an expression.”
These attitudes are why the primarily government-led attempt to address homophobia in the stadium was met with pushback, according to France 24. It’s yet to be seen how the French government will react to the FFF’s new pro-allowance stance. The government may soon be forced to choose whether to fight for the enforcement of the anti-homophobia rules, despite the strong resistance from the FFF and the fans, or to back away from an increasingly hostile conflict.
Some of the interviews have been translated from French.