Incidents in Saint-Etienne: “The way in which France represses violent behavior produces perverse effects”

It was only three days ago. The Saint-Etienne supporters flocked to the lawn of Geoffroy-Guichard, frustrated by the formalization of their club’s descent into Ligue 2, with a fierce desire to do battle, throwing smoke bombs and rockets at the players and towards the official stand. Just over forty-eight hours after these surreal scenes, it’s time for attempts at explanations. For Nicolas Hourcade, sociologist at the Ecole Centrale de Lyon and specialist in football fans, these events should be anticipated: “They were widely distributed. All observers knew that the situation in Saint-Etienne was a pressure cooker. An overgrown unit was particularly feared“.

They complement each other as guarantors of the club’s identity

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But how did we come to such a level of split in Saint-Etienne so that the invasion of the field became a predictable option? “There is a significant conflict between the club and its supporters’ associations, particularly the ultras. The problem is not limited to sports results and the descent to L2explains Mr. Hourcade. The club has been on sale for very long months, without the operation materializing. The ultras accuse their management of navigating on sight and endangering the future of the club. They complement each other as guarantors of the club’s identity and want to mark their opposition to the policy followed.”

An opposition that they have configured on many occasions this season, from October upstream of a Saint-Etienne-Angers caused almost an hour for jets of smoke and rockets on the lawn. Then in the Coupe de France against Jura Sud in January, before a final recurrence against Monaco a month ago and finally the sad images of the final whistle against Auxerre last Sunday. “They have endured numerous grandstand closures and travel bans this year, which they have at times prevented as unfair, which has fueled their resentment at sporting and public authoritiescontextualizes Hourcade. With the relegation to Ligue 2, their anger completely exploded. These explanations absolutely do not justify the overflows, but allow to understand the motivations.

Firecracker, smoke … The match had to be interrupted between Jura Sud and Saint-Etienne

The fundamental problem of stadium recruitment

However, despite several factors indicating that they were likely to take action, the ease with which the Saint-Etienne public entered the pitch at the second of the final whistle last Sunday indicates at best a lack of preparation in the face of expectations. , at worst a total and assumed abandonment of security. The question therefore arises as to how to explain such poor management of an event that was nevertheless expected. “With the health crisis, habits in terms of security management around football matches have been lostexplains Nicolas Hourcade, for whom the difficulties related to security can be explained by two main axes. A fundamental problem is that of recruitment and stadium training. We have seen in Nice, at the Stade de France or in Saint-Etienne that it was difficult to have enough competent stadiums. It is a professional sector that must be rethought and valued.”

Another problem is that of the anti-intrusion devices, which must make it possible to avoid an invasion of land without representing any danger for the public. We saw in Nice at the start of the season and in Saint-Etienne on Sunday that the invasion of the field was done too easily“, completes the sociologist. At the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard on Sunday, the only punishment provided was the closure of a single stand, despite numerous incidents this season. Collective sanctions which are not adapted to the situation for Nicolas Hourcade: “The way in which France represses the violent behavior of certain supporters is not effective and even produces perverse effects.”

The police in the smoke of Geoffroy-Guichard at the end of Saint-Etienne – Auxerre

Credit: Getty Images

In the 1990s, when the English and Germans faced serious problems of violence and racism among their supporters, they did not solve them by closing stands or banning all supporters from a traveling club . They dealt with them by identifying violent individuals and banning them from the stadium“, completes the specialist, referring in particular to the “Football offenses act” of 1991 in England, bringing to prison individual behavior incapable with the rules in force.

Treat supporters who do not cause problems and violent supporters differently

A radically different approach from that currently advocated in France: “France favors collective sanctions, which affect the entire public, even those who have done nothing wrong. Under these conditions, when the platform is uncovered, everyone returns, including individuals guilty of violence previously. The challenge is to treat supporters who do not cause problems and violent supporters differently.”

The invasion of the pitch by AS Saint-Etienne supporters after relegation to Ligue 2

Credit: Getty Images

Today, the Forez club risks heavy financial penalties, and a withdrawal of points to come for next season in the second division. But despite government announcements targeting a few minorities, there has been a more general problem for Nicolas Hourcade since the start of the 2021-2022 financial year, in Saint-Etienne as elsewhere: “Certainly, there has been a situational problem this season. The return of the public to the stadiums was characterized by strong excitement, often positive but sometimes also negative. Moreover, France is not an isolated case, incidents are multiplying throughout Europe this year, especially in England..”

So you don’t necessarily have to hit the supporters harder, but differently. And above all to understand the motivations behind these behaviors, at the risk of having more and more scenes like in Saint-Etienne on Sunday or in Saint-Denis on Saturday, and end up having much more dramatic consequences: “We were lucky this weekend that there were no serious injuries. The elements cited were never excuses, but explanations for the increase in violence. If we do not understand the reasons for overflows, we cannot treat them effectively.”

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