Soccer fans launch legal challenge to stop French authorities from banning away supporters at games

PARIS (AP) — An umbrella organization for soccer fan groups has taken legal action aimed at stopping French authorities from banning away supporters attending some games this weekend.

The National Supporters’ Association said Friday it has referred the matter to France's highest administrative court as it seeks to challenge bans targeting four matches, including two in the top-tier of the French league.

The bans ordered by the French government and local authorities followed the death of a supporter in Nantes last weekend.

Sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said this week that preventing supporters from traveling to rival clubs could help restore calm following a series of incidents this season.

“These appeals are in no way intended to minimize the seriousness of last Saturday’s tragedy," the group said. “No one can doubt the immense sadness in the French stands. Nor can anyone doubt our sense of responsibility.”

The group argued that it's essential to let away fans attend the matches involving Reims, Lens, Auxerre and Bordeaux to guarantee safety for all, especially because many fans are already on site.

“The aim of our approach is to ensure that these matches can take place in an atmosphere of respect and freedom,” the group said.

Reims said this week that its fans were not allowed to travel to Nice because their French league match on Sunday has been identified as “at risk” of violence.

Lyon fans were not allowed to attend Wednesday’s 3-0 loss at Marseille and Lens supporters have been banned from traveling to Friday’s match in Montpellier.

In France, traveling fans are regularly banned from high-risk games such as those between bitter rivals Paris Saint-Germain and Marseille. But Oudea-Castera suggested the measure could be used more often.

Marseille fans at their Stade Velodrome deployed banners protesting such bans before their team’s match against Lyon.

“Banned from traveling in the country of freedoms. Today more than ever, freedom for ultras,” their message read, in a reference to diehard fans often described as “ultras.”

The National Supporters’ Association said it decided not to challenge the bans imposed on away fans for matches between PSG and Nantes, Saint-Etienne and Nimes, Lorient and Marseille, as well as Lyon and Toulouse.

“These orders are highly questionable. But (these matches) will attract very large crowds. It’s too late to change their framework,” the group said.

The Nantes fan who died last week was killed following a fight between supporters before the club’s 1-0 win over Nice. The public prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation into voluntary manslaughter.


AP soccer:

The Associated Press