PSG seek to calm social tensions ahead of French Cup final

Paris: The French Cup final between Paris St Germain and Monaco may yield drama on the pitch this week but off the field, hooliganism and racism threaten to tear Paris`s top club apart and spark a bout of social tension.

Soccer hooliganism in Europe is not uncommon but unlike much of the rest of the continent, PSG`s fanaticism is within its own stands and creating an example that is spreading into other clubs, such as Lyon, Nice and into Corsica.

France`s government on Thursday announced a ban on five Paris St Germain (PSG) fan associations after a supporter was killed following riots outside the club`s stadium in February.

At the heart of the violence lies the rivalry between two sets of supporters -- "Boulogne" known for far-right views and "Auteuil", which was set up to provide a multi-ethnic fan base.

"When we think of PSG, we think racism," said Christophe Huldry, a spokesman for one the Auteuil associations, whose supporters were blamed for the murder. "When we go to a football match, it`s not to die. We can`t not do anything anymore."

The February riots saw about 150 Boulogne fans chanting slogans such as "Hitler for President". A group of Auteuil fans is teaming up with anti-racism groups to file 30 complaints against fellow supporters for racial slurs and violence.

The club, whose fans include French President Nicolas Sarkozy and veteran actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, was forced to play games behind closed doors and the management has cut ticket sales.

"These penalties (are aimed) at eliminating from our stadiums pseudo supporters with totally unacceptable behaviour," Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux said of the government ban, which means five groups will be dissolved.

But the government has stopped short of evoking the racism issue, which has plagued PSG`s stands for about 20 years.

"What`s shocking is the Interior Ministry has recognised the problem of violence, but a lot less the subject of racism," said Carine Bloch, president of the sport`s commission for the International League against Racism and Anti-Semitism (LICRA).

Britain fought a crusade against hooligans during the 1980s. More recently racist incidents primarily in Italy involving chants from home fans have blighted matches, forcing European soccer body UEFA to issue guidelines to handle the chants.

"At a time of crisis, we are seeing a push across Europe in nationalism and identity politics," Bloch said.

Bureau Report

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