France opens investigation into violent clashes at Nice-Marseille football match

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Local authorities in Nice on Monday opened an investigation into the ugly incidents which led to the abandonment of the weekend Ligue 1 match between the home side and Marseille, while politicians in France called for punishments to be handed out to those responsible.

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The public prosecutor in the southern city confirmed it had begun a probe but said no arrests had been made after Nice supporters invaded the pitch and angrily confronted Marseille’s Dimitri Payet, who had thrown a bottle lobbed at him back into the crowd, before a brawl broke out involving players and spectators. 

The French league (LFP) released a short statement saying it had summoned the two clubs to a hearing on Wednesday and “strongly condemned the violence”.

The hosts were leading the Mediterranean derby 1-0 when the game was interrupted in the 75th minute at the Allianz Riviera as Payet fell after being struck by a bottle as he went across to take a corner.

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Payet threw a bottle back into the crowd as team-mates came across to remonstrate with Nice fans behind the goal.

Some supporters streamed onto the pitch and a melee ensued involving players, staff, fans and stewards. Marseille coach Jorge Sampaoli had to be restrained by members of his own staff.

The match was halted for over an hour and finally abandoned just before midnight local time after Marseille refused to return to the pitch.

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In farcical scenes, the Nice players came back out and the referee placed the ball by the corner flag where the game had been stopped, before blowing his whistle.

The league said it aligned itself with local authorities who wanted to restart the game “to guarantee public order”.

“The league wanted the match to restart. We decided for the safety of our players, who were attacked during the pitch invasion, not to resume,” said Marseille president Pablo Longoria, adding the referee “was with us” and decided to stop the game. 

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Blame game

It now remains to be seen what action will be taken by the league, which must decide whether to replay the game or award Nice a victory on the basis that Marseille forfeited the match by refusing to return to the pitch.

Nice, meanwhile, laid the blame squarely at Marseille’s door for fanning the flames.

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“While nothing can excuse the actions of a few individuals guilty of throwing bottles…there is no doubt that it was the attitude and actions of several members of Olympique de Marseille that saw the incident escalate out of control,” Nice said in a statement.

They claimed one Marseille assistant coach knocked out a supporter who “remains in hospital” and said two players – Justin Kluivert and Jean-Clair Todidbo – were attacked by Marseille security staff.

“One should not overlook the provocative actions of several Marseille players in the first half which only added to tensions around the stadium.”

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There had already been a loud-speaker announcement earlier in the game asking supporters to stop throwing bottles and there were also reports of incidents in the VIP box involving the presidents of the two clubs.

Blow for French football

The incidents are a huge blow for the image of Ligue 1, less than two weeks after Lionel Messi moved to France to sign for Paris Saint-Germain.

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It is also a major blow for Nice, a club with big ambitions under the ownership of Ineos, chaired by British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe.

The match was attended by over 32,000 fans with spectators allowed back inside stadiums in France after almost all of last season was played out behind closed doors due to coronavirus restrictions.

Now, however, Nice run the risk of playing several games in an empty stadium again as a punishment, and politicians lined up to call for action to be taken.

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Roxana Maracineanu, France’s Minister Delegate in charge of sport, said those guilty should be punished “if we can find them…I think there needs to be punishments for the club in question.”

Christian Estrosi, the centre-right mayor of Nice, got involved too, tweeting: “Violence is always intolerable. There must be punishments after (the league) has determined who was responsible.”

“The behaviour of some supporters was unspeakable but so was that of the Marseille president in the stands and the coach on the field,” he added.

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(AFP)

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