How the national football team must change course in the face of crisis | Martin Kettle

French Football players past and present joined the dozens injured in the Paris Match-Match TV Glance on Saturday night as fans fought near Stade de France, home of the France national team.

It’s happening more and more: the violence is escalating

According to the president of the French Football Federation, Noel Le Graet, the events at the stadium were particularly troubling because it was a return match between France and Germany, to whom Les Bleus had been defeated after extra time at the World Cup final in July in Moscow.

Asked at a press conference about the mood of the French public following the violence, Le Graet said: “Definitely there was anxiety.”

This event added to a growing list of football related violence this year in France. Across all sports a record number of crimes have been attributed to fans, potentially criminal offences have been committed and there are fears of further violence during the season, such as at the season’s two biggest games, between Bayern Munich and Barcelona on 30 February and the Champions League final in the Allianz Arena on 6 June.

While the contrast between the violence in the stadium and elsewhere on Saturday night is stark, this is only part of the picture. In the eight years since the France team won the World Cup the country has witnessed a steep rise in the levels of violence seen around games at venues such as Versailles, Lille, the Stade de France and two stadiums in Lens.

As recently as the match against the USA at Stade de France in November 2016 there were a few counter-attacks during a period of wild celebrations in the stadium.

In the long term observers believe players will become isolated from fans.

Before the 1990 World Cup France player François Clerc said: “I’ve heard that all footballers are interested in money now, of course I am, but I tell you today that I am even more concerned about the violence that has started to spread. After 1990, we were aware of racism but to now see the examples of arms fighting in football is barbaric. I still consider that football is a great sport.”

Clearly Clerc was wrong. Former star Michael Owen last year told the BBC: “I do wonder if I should stay out on the pitch after what has happened this year. I do sometimes think about it … but you can’t put yourself in that situation. I hope it does stop but you do sometimes think about it.”

Stade de France in Paris, home of France. Fans who were attending Saturday’s match between France and Germany clashed. Photograph: Patrick Kovarik/Getty Images

Within France’s sporting establishment it is becoming increasingly clear that grassroots football in the country is being put at risk by the bad press about fans, which is unacceptable. Two national football associations, representing former players and former players, have complained about the bad publicity, and called for an international response to the problems.

In particular, the much-reviled representative of former players, – Fifa’s general secretary Gianni Infantino – wants to see a new system of sanctions for fan behaviour. But this has stalled at the Fifa executive committee.

On social media the incidents are increasingly discussed as part of the wider issue of the breakdown of order, culminating in riots and sport banishment in Paris this year.

With the plan to have a two-time national team winner run the national football federation being rejected at the last minute, those who matter may need to rethink their priorities.

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