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Ultras and authorities, towards common ground?

Throwing projectiles, invasions of the field, fights and acts of violence… After a 2021/2022 season sadly marked by the attitude of the supporters, how should we behave when the French football championship begins? All-repressive? Indulgence? We asked fans and state officials about the policy.

“Repeated bans, limitations without reason”: banner of the Ultras Etienne. “Catalogized guilty every time. Humiliated and outlawed”: banner of the Bordeaux Ultras. “The stands are dying”: banner of the Marseille Ultras. Last season, many groups of supporters never ceased to express their anger during Ligue 1 matches. In question, the multiple prefectural decrees which punctuated the 38 days of the championship. “It is forbidden for anyone claiming to be a supporter of *** or behaving as such, to access the stadium ***”. This sentence, hated by football fans, in conclusion of a prefectural decree, was applied 129 times last year. A record for a season since the period of the attacks in 2015. Added to this are 11 behind closed doors, and 59 closures of stands (including 26 suspended).

However, between Ultras and the prefecture, a dialogue tends to exist with the same desire for both camps to move in the same direction. For Kilian Valentin, spokesman for the National Association of Supporters (ANS), this increase in bans is due to the image of football fans that the authorities have. According to him, they are “considered as criminals”. To support this statement, he takes the example of Alain Bauer. This criminologist was commissioned by the Professional Football League to report on the excesses caused by football fans last season. Kilian Valentin also castigates the numerous “speech of ‘putting criminals out of stadiums'”.

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How is a stadium ban decided?

Behind these prohibitions are considerations of maintaining public order and security. The role of the prefecture is “to be able to foresee, anticipate and adapt”. Thomas Guittet, the head of the office of defense and security of the prefecture of the Côte d’Or, recalls that it is the guarantor of public order. He adds that the prefect “has the responsibility to oversee this trip”. Last week, the first match of the Ligue 2 championship, Dijon – Saint-Etienne, was the scene of the first travel ban. A month before the match, the various parties met (club, police, national division for the fight against hooliganism) to decide on the decree prohibiting fans of the Greens from attending the match of their team. The Dijon prefecture considered that this match was at risk, due to the events that took place at the end of last season in Saint-Etienne*.

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Saint-Etienne supporters during a match against OL in October 2021.

© Mourad ALLILI/SIPA

A constructive dialogue

However, Saint-Etienne fans were able to watch their team’s match. After taking note of their travel ban, the Green supporters, through the Association for the Defense of Stéphanois Supporters (AD2S), began a dialogue with the authorities**. Kilian Valentin was pleased with the success of this contact. He believes that “the prefecture has decided to go a little further and to open the discussion with the Saint-Etienne supporters. And we saw that it went well. Bet won for the supporters, the prefecture considering, after this discussion, that there was “the guarantee that the meeting could take place in good conditions and without fear of major overflows”. Bet won for the prefecture, because no overflow was reported during this meeting.

Read also : Football, stop the thugs!

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Towards a lull?

The key is dialogue. A means already used by the ANS, and which will be used again this season. “The door has always been open to dialogue with the authorities,” said Kilian Valentin. We are available to discuss with them”. The key is also cooperation. With the confidence given by the prefecture to Green supporters to move, the fans had every interest in not betraying it. “The Saint-Etienne supporters accepted this coaching order, they wanted it and respected it. This shows that it was a measure that was perfectly suited to the circumstances, ”says Thomas Guittet. The ANS has a goal of “zero travel bans per season”. If that may seem utopian, the recent episode between the Dijon prefecture and ASSE fans shows that common ground is not.

* During the Ligue 1 qualifying play-off – or Ligue 2 descent – lost by ASSE against Auxerre (1-1, 4-5 TAB), the field was invaded, pyrotechnic devices launched in stands, players insulted and targeted…

**Following this, the Greens detailed their organization, indicating the number of people, the means of transport, the animation material and their agenda. The prefecture then decided to engage in dialogue and therefore to cancel the travel ban. No incident has been reported, she told Paris Match. Subsequently, the AD2S welcomed this outcome by thanking the Dijon prefecture.

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