LGBTQ activists are calling for the resignation of French Football Federation president Noël Le Graët after he urged referees to defy a FIFA directive by not stopping matches when fans are yelling anti-gay slurs or chants.
Le Graët says he is against homophobia, but believes that matches should only be stopped in cases of racism — such as when fans chant or make monkey noises at black players — or security problems, such as fights between fans.
“Stopping matches [for homophobic chanting] doesn’t interest me. It’s an error,” Le Graët told France Info radio station on Tuesday. “I would stop a game for racist chants, that is clear. I would stop it for a fight, for incidents, if there is a danger somewhere inside the stadium.”
But, he said, racism and homophobia “are not the same thing,” adding that it should be up to individual football clubs to police their own fans, according to the Associated Press.
“The clubs’ security services have to check the people who go to games, there is security there to ensure that [homophobic] banners disappear quickly,” Le Graët said.
FIFA, the international governing body for the sport of soccer, has taken steps in recent years to combat homophobia in the sport. Earlier this year, it reminded federations and referees to follow a three-step procedure which allows them to stop, suspend, and ultimately abandon a game if fans continue to engage in homophobic behavior.
But Le Graët has been highly critical of FIFA’s directive, saying that while his federation would ensure that fan-made homophobic banners were removed from matches, he did not believe it was right to stop matches for homophobic taunts or chants.
Several league games in the top two French divisions have been halted by referees this season as a result of homophobic chants or banners. The actions have riled fans, who are used to such behavior, but have been praised by politicians. But Le Graët accuses those politicians of engaging in political correctness in order to look good “in front of television cameras.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, a football fan himself, said he’s not naive to the fact that passions can get out of hand at games.
“We know what it is when a stadium heats up, and sometimes the insults, to say the least, that fly. I’m not about to say that all this should end,” he said. “But we can’t explain every day to our young people, and less-young people, that they must restore decency to the country, that they must stop the violence and to say at the same time that we must accept the worst.”
Roxana Maracineanu, the French sports minister, criticized Le Graët’s comments and said he has a role to play in the “fight against all forms of discrimination.”
The Rouge Direct group, which campaigns against homophobia in French sports, called for Le Graët to resign and withdraw his comments.
Rouge Direct spokesman Julien Pontes said the group would go to court if Le Graët refuses to do so, saying it would argue that the FFF boss was selectively enforcing rules intended to prohibit discrimination, and was downplaying the impact of homophobia as compared to racism.
The French anti-racism organization SOS Racisme earlier also slammed Le Graët, saying in a statement that “his words contribute to undermining the efforts” made to combat all forms of discrimination — including racism, homophobia and sexism.
“It’s time for Noël Le Graët to retire,” SOS Racisme said.