An investigation has been launched this last week following the release of a video that shows fans of the French Football Club Lens using homophobic chants during a match against local rival Valenciennes. The Rouge-Direct Collective, a “gay football collective” called attention to the chant by sharing a video of it across social media.

The video shows the “Capo” who is the person that launches the chants/ songs and supporters enthusiastically singing the chant. The homophobic language includes the phrase “Oh VA [Valenciennes] bande de pédés!” which translates to “Oh VA (Valenciennes), gang of fags!”

Rouge Direct shared a statement on Facebook denouncing the chant and demanded that the French Professional Football League (LFP) take disciplinary action against the “authors of homophobic insults, in particular the capo.” RC Lens also released a statement that denounces “all forms of discrimination” and working to “take necessary measures with the competent authorities and, if possible, by associating the sections of fans identified.”

Rouge Direct has reached out to LFP in the past regarding the lack of clear policy regarding such behavior. In May 2018, the LFP justified the lack of policies with “the difficulty of finding and materialize the facts” but with this latest video, it seems that the LFP has all the facts they need.

The fan group identified as the “Red Tigers” responded to the post through a spokesperson and stated that they “misunderstood and supported their capo” In the statement, the spokesperson said,

“In our stand, nobody has been, or will be, categorised by gender, sexual orientation, origins, colour or religion,” Pierre Revillon, spokesperson for the Red Tigers, said. “Being a Lens supporter is enough for us.

“We will remain behind the capo, who had no nasty intentions when he started the chant which was taken up by the whole stand, who did not think the words could wound and harm the homosexual community. You’ve heard these chants in every stadium in France for years,” he said.

Revellion added that the group was “dismayed by the attitude and methods” of Rouge Direct and “bodies that classify without understanding and without making the effort to understand the history and culture of our terraces.”

Despite their intentions or the tradition of these chants, the homophobic words used are not acceptable and contribute to the ongoing issue of homophobia in sports. Research shows that there is a disconnect between people’s perceptions of the existence of homophobia in sports and the actual action. The “Action Perception Gap” identifies a disconnect between people’s perceptions that discrimination doesn’t exist, but their actions, including the use of homophobic chants, show that there is. Despite their intentions, the Red Tigers are use of such homophobic chants contributes to the low participation and increasing fears that prevent LGBTQI people from participating in sports.

Revellion continued, “We refuse to be insulted as homophobes and we do not want to serve as an example,” he said, adding that Lens fans “invite the Rouge Direct collective to come to see us and talk with us in the stands, something they should have done before embarking on a media buzz that makes us look like people we are not”.

Later, the group announced that their Capo has stepped aside until further notice. There has been a lot of attention called to homophobia prevalent in French Football after the president of the LFP, Nathalie Boy de la Tour, called the presence of homophobic chants “Folklore.” However, Roxana Maracinenu, the French Minster of Sports, has publicly denounced the homophobic remarks that have become more common in French football.

Revellion concluded, “The stands at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis have always advocated open-mindedness and fought against all forms of discrimination,” the club added, inviting Rouge Direct to attend a Lens game “to observe the friendly, respectful and festive atmosphere in the ground”. 

We hope that the Red Tigers will learn from this experience and that the Rouge Direct will help to educate them on how the use of such homophobic language is harmful to the community and in direct conflict with their intention to “fight all forms of discrimination” and that it diminishes the “respectful and festive atmosphere” of sports.

By Dirk Smith