A sigh, time to search for the words. A mixture of exasperation, because the subject weighs heavily and often comes up, and relief, that of being able to share one's vision of things and move towards a peaceful dialogue. Whether they are ultra supporters, athletes from LGBT clubs or members of associations, they all have one thing in common: the desire to live their passion for football in a healthy way. On September 24, homophobic insults chanted by Parisian supporters during the PSG-OM match sparked controversy.
“The Marseillais are fags, sons of bitches, motherfuckers,” we heard in the Parc des Princes for many minutes. Recurring remarks in football stadiums for years, which arouse indignation of varying geometry depending on the prestige of the match or whether politicians get involved or not. The questions are numerous, we no longer know where to approach the problem. By its source, perhaps? Why are fans chanting these insults? In fact, why are insults, whether discriminatory or not, omnipresent in football stadiums?
“In football, there is a form of unconditional support, a partisan passion. We take sides with one team and against the other,” points out Philippe Liotard, sociologist at Claude Bernard Lyon 1 University since 2002 and member of the LGBTQI research chair of the laboratory on vulnerabilities and innovation in sport. A partisan passion which grew in the 1980s in France with the emergence of the ultra movement, not restrictive to football, bringing together the fans most dedicated to their club.
“To impose oneself on others is on the field but also in terms of identity, and by extension oneself imposes oneself on all opposing supporters,” continues Philippe Liotard. To impose yourself at all costs, at the risk of falling into excess. “The goal is to put pressure on the opponent, to destabilize them so that your team wins,” confirms Stéphane Beaumont, leader of the Ultras Roisters in Valenciennes. “The insults are part of the thing,” recognizes the father who struggles, at his level, to “prioritize songs of encouragement” and reduce the amount of insults in the stands.
“We talk a lot about the word folklore in the media and that’s a bit like it,” says another Stéphane, ultra from Malherbe Normandy Kop. In Caen too, we “try to limit” insults. Two obstacles to this: “insults in the stands, there have always been some” and “it is not possible to control so many people”, says the Caen supporter. In other words, the problem is rooted and the group effect does not help (there were on average 23,810 spectators for a Ligue 1 match last season, 8,680 in Ligue 2). The question would be less sensitive if there was not, in this verbal violence, a discriminatory dimension. In the partisan passion evoked by Philippe Liotard, “there is an intention to hurt, so we choose the terms which we know will have an impact” continues the sociologist. Hence the drift towards racist, sexist or homophobic remarks.
However, most of the supporters swear: there is no homophobia among them. “It's more against the opposing team, it's the folklore of football, it's fair game,” says Thomas Simon, member of the Roazhon Celtic Kop in Rennes. “We don't talk about hooligans, we sometimes talk about parents who are absolutely not homophobic when we talk with them, it's their behavior and what they say that is homophobic,” explains Yoann Lemaire, openly gay former footballer and founder of the Foot Ensemble association which works against discrimination in football.
“The word “motherfucker”, for us, is not homophobic, it means fuck off,” defines Stéphane Beaumont from Valenciennes. The question then becomes that of the choice of words and their perception. “We in Valenciennes, the word faggot, we understood that it could hurt people,” continues the spokesperson for the northern ultras. “There is much more consensus” on the words “faggot” and “tarlouze,” agrees Stéphane de Caen. Not on the word “motherfucker,” whether used as a verb or an adjective.
The subject is sensitive, first for the victims of the insults, but also for those who utter them. Supporters, whose freedoms are regularly violated through indifference, are annoyed at being the scapegoats of authorities and politicians. “The more they fight against the word “motherfucker”, the more we will say it,” warns us an ultra-influential from one of the biggest French clubs. Stéphane, a Caen supporter who says he “knows people who are most concerned by this”, recalls that “sodomy is not reserved for homosexuals, and to say that “fucker” is homophobic is to reduce homosexuals to just one sexual practice. “But who can get fucked? Not the straight man,” replies Bertrand Lambert, president of PanamBoyz
The supporters “just have to say asshole or bastard” if they are so keen to insult, “the French language is excessively rich”, brandishes Bertrand Lambert. Similar story at FC Paris Arc-en-Ciel, another LGBT-friendly club founded in 1997. “Among our members, it is really seen as a homophobic insult because it remains associated, in the collective imagination, with “male homosexuality,” explains Camille Mury-Decouflet, president of FC Paris Arc-en-Ciel.
The leader is also not insensitive to the fact that homophobia has always resulted in the attribution of feminine characteristics to men. “For me as a woman, homophobia in football is really linked to sexism, and it is linked to a degrading, humiliating sexual position.”
Philippe Liotard notes “a way of asserting one's virility by imposing a representation of sexuality which is that of penetration. The one who is penetrated is inferior. That’s what’s in the background.” Yoann Lemaire has been confronted with these themes for almost 20 years. “If anyone thinks that motherfucker isn't homophobic, I'm not going to spend an hour talking about it. If you think it's okay if your kid asks you "Daddy, what does that mean motherfucker?" and that you are happy to explain to him..." Camille Mury-Decouflet is aware that the term has "entered into everyday language", but thinks that "this is where we must make everyday language evolve while explaining to people that, perhaps for you it is innocent, but for those concerned it is years of insults, of degrading words.
Homophobia is anchored in society and, like all discrimination, it is a question of deconstructing mechanisms. “Me first, when I was a football player, I said insults and homophobic remarks,” Yoann Lemaire bluntly admits. I'm not going to preach. But it’s about the issues and the consequences of that.” According to a survey by the Journal of Epidemiology and Public Health carried out in 2011 among 10,000 men and 3,000 women self-identifying as homosexual or bisexual, 16% of gay men and 18% of Lesbian women report having attempted suicide at least once in their life. This is almost double the French adult population (8%) according to figures from the Ministry of Health published in 2006.
There remains the paradox between homophobic insults which remain, whatever the terms used, and the good will of numerous ultra groups. “In Caen, we are very careful” about cases of racism, homophobia or other things, shares Stéphane. “We have already withdrawn cards or banned the movement of people who have engaged in very problematic behavior,” he adds. In Valenciennes, Stéphane Beaumont approves of the “in-depth work that causes less talk” and the meetings with the LFP’s partner associations (Foot Ensemble, PanamBoyz
Thomas Simon, a Rennes ultra for 4 years, underlines the abstract side of the insults. “Targeting a player, I find that it is not done,” he laments, he who was in the stand when his group chanted, for a few seconds during Rennes-Nantes on October 1, “Abline, Abline, fuck you” to Mathis Abline, transferred from Rennes to Nantes this summer. “As soon as we sang that, the stadium whistled. Even within the kop, not everyone agreed on the song,” confides Thomas Simon.
The seriousness of the individual targeting of homophobic insults also remains virtual, because there is no professional footballer in France who has come out. 15 years ago, several of the best players in Ligue 1 were homosexual. They shone on the pitch while using stratagems to hide their romantic orientation from the general public and their teammates. Moreover, in the opinion of many in the industry, it is in the locker rooms and not in the stands that we find the most “active or assumed” homophobia, points out Yoann Lemaire.
The latter has been running workshops in training centers for 7 years, and in professional clubs for 3 years. “I enjoy talking to the players. We don’t always agree, sometimes it’s tense, it’s annoying, but we talk to each other!” Lemaire remembers a recent workshop in Lyon where midfielder Corentin Tolisso, 28 caps for the French team, plays. “I asked him why it’s so taboo according to him. He immediately has the answer. “I think it’s the way others see him, he’s going to be judged, he’s going to be criticized, so he prefers to stay silent.”
The final question arises: how can we reduce homophobia? In the case of songs, collective sanctions, materialized by the closure of stands or fines, are almost unanimously against them. A “vicious circle” according to Bertrand Lambert (Panamboyz
After PSG-OM, the Auteuil stand at the Parc des Princes was closed for a match, at the initiative of the LFP disciplinary committee. After Rennes-Nantes, the Rennes club was fined 70,000 euros. For information, the penalty for homophobic insult or defamation in France is one year's imprisonment and a fine of €45,000.
There were also match interruptions in the event of homophobic chants in 2019, the implementation of which was short-lived. The Minister of Sports at the time, Roxana Maracineanu, only took a few months before backpedaling. “We are not with the idea of sanctioning but rather of explaining, preventing and encouraging the sporting world to take its part in this societal fight,” she justified.
This season, the LFP and its partner associations are continuing their workshops in professional clubs. Educate, dialogue and contribute to the range of possible sanctions. Example with Kevin N’Doram, FC Metz player guilty of homophobic comments on Amazon Prime Video last August. Messin was welcomed on Wednesday by PanamBoyz
There is also this thorny question, to which N'Doram alluded, of the rainbow flocked jersey, which could be abandoned at the end of a meeting at the LFP this Thursday. It is seen as support for “victims of homophobia” for some, a “promotion of homosexuality” for others, regret Yoann Lemaire and Bertrand Lambert in one voice. Proof that there is indeed frying on the line. And a need to dialogue.