France to halt games when anthem is booed

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French Sports Minister announced dramatic move of cancelling football matches if the country’s national anthem is booed.

16 October 2008
PARIS -- Any football match in France before which the country's national anthem is booed will now be "immediately stopped", French Sports Minister Roselyne Bachelot said Wednesday after meeting with President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The dramatic move was triggered by the jeering of 'La Marseillaise' before Tuesday's friendly between France and Tunisia at the Stade de France.
The incident at the game, which France won 3-1, caused such offence that public prosecutors later launched a preliminary investigation for "outrage against the national anthem".
"Any match when our national anthem is whistled will be stopped immediately," Bachelot said after talks with Sarkozy and French Football Federation president Jean-Pierre Escalettes.
"Government members will immediately leave the arena where our national anthem has been whistled.
"When whistling of our national anthem happens, all friendly games with the country concerned will be suspended for a period yet to be determined by the federation president."
"The president has committed himself to seeing that measures are taken," said Escalettes, who said the authorities had to think of the security implications if such behaviour were allowed to pass.
He blamed "imbecilic" fans for forcing the crackdown which he said left both him and the players scandalised and hurt.
William Gaillard, the communications' director of European football's governing body UEFA, told AFP later on Wednesday cancelling a match because of disrespect for a national anthem would pose logistical problems.
"In the heat of the moment, you sometimes think of measures which are not easy to do in practical terms," Gaillard said.
"French government officials will no doubt contact UEFA and then (football's world governing body) FIFA because there are questions to answer.
What will be needed? A code of conduct?
"Then you have to deal with the consequences. There's the principle but also the practical side of things. You have to be really on top of the practical side because evacuating 80,000 people from a stadium would pose a practical problem."
Sarkozy and fellow politicians reacted with shock and anger at the booing and whistling.
Bernard Laporte, the ministerial secretary of state for sport, told Radio Monte Carlo he would suggest that France no longer play friendlies against North African countries following similar problems in recent years against Algeria and Morocco - like Tunisia, once former colonies of France.
"Let's stop the hypocrisy - let's just stop doing these matches," said Laporte.
"We cannot tolerate our Marseillaise being jeered."
Many of the 60,000 crowd on Tuesday were Tunisian - friendlies against North African sides traditionally attract widespread support from sizeable immigrant communities in and around the French capital.
Some booed when the names of the French players were read out over the PA system before kickoff, reaching a crescendo for Hatem Ben Arfa, born in France to Tunisian parents and who opted to play for the country of his birth despite overtures from the Tunisian Federation.
French Prime Minister François Fillon said the booing was "insulting for France and for the French players" and that in the event of a repeat it would be necessary "to call off matches."
Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the French far-right National Front, said the jeering was proof of the failure of multiculturalism, insisting the "integration of foreign masses to our culture is a failure as it is a utopia."
Racism in football has regularly reared its head and earlier this week Spain's Atletico Madrid were handed a two-match Champions League stadium ban for alleged racist insults by its supporters against Marseille players.
But Le Pen charged that sporting authorities seeking to combat racism in stadiums were less interested when it came to "anti-French racism".
[AFP / Expatica]

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