Commentary

Emotions Run High as France's Ligue 1 Returns

French soccer resumed on Friday as Nice beat second-place Lyon, 3-0, to move into third-place in the Ligue 1 table.

The game at the Allianz Riviera was the first in France since the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that left 130 dead and many more injured.

The Stade de France in Saint Denis was among the venues targeted during last Friday’s attacks in which three attackers blew themselves up near the French national stadium, where the national team was playing world champion Germany in a friendly. 

At the game in Nice, fans held lit candles during a minute’s silence after singing “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem, prior to kickoff. 

That gesture will be repeated throughout the country’s top two divisions as club soccer resumes in Europe this weekend. In an act of solidarity with its neighbor, the BBC reported that England’s Premier League would also play “La Marseillaise” before its games, in addition to observing a minute’s silence before kickoff 

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As an extra security measure, France’s Ligue de Football Professionnel (LFP) has banned away fans at all major domestic games, while those attending will be body searched as they enter the stadium. Fans will also not be allowed to bring bags, hats or bulky items.

There will also be heightened security in neighboring Spain, particularly for Saturday’s Clasico between rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona. Additionally, Spanish league games will be preceded by a minute’s silence in honor of the victims of last Friday’s attacks in Paris.

To be sure, it will be an emotional weekend -- particularly in France, where the LFP only made the decision to go ahead with this weekend’s round of games on Tuesday.



"Playing football is an act of resistance in the face of barbarism,” LFP President Frederic Thiriez said. “After the pain, after the tears, life must go on. Sportspeople, just like artists, can set the example."

Indeed, but Ligue 1’s players and coaches are human, too. During his press conference on Friday ahead of Paris Saint-Germain’s trip to Lorient, coach Laurent Blanc was obviously feeling the pressure of being asked to set such an example to the people of France. As the media repeatedly battered him with questions about the psychological impact the Nov 13 attacks must have had on the French capital club, Blanc became increasingly flustered.

"It's not just Paris Saint-Germain players who are affected, it's all the players,” the Frenchman said. “Perhaps even more the foreign players. Why? Because they were very far away from Paris [during the international break], and the international media showed non-stop images of Paris, very negative, which was the reality.” Blanc added that because of this, “some [psychological] work had to be done" with the players, although none of them had yet come to him asking not to play.

"It's going to be hard to play football this weekend, for everyone, but we have to do it," he said. "It's our duty to prepare well. and to play as well as we can, despite the difficult context."

At one point, the former Marseille, Barcelona and Manchester United became so agitated with the repeated questions about his players’ state of mind, he said: “So what?” before adding sarcastically: "Great, great, they were dancing on the table and everything. You're explaining something to me ... you're explaining to me how they are, and by explaining to me how they are, you've given yourself the answer.”

Finally, he said angrily: "We're not going to talk about this during the whole news conference, because I guarantee you, if you ask me one more question about the context, I'll leave."

Sure, soccer can play a role in helping the people of France and Europe move forward, but let’s not forget that the players and staff of the clubs have all been affected by what’s happened, too. With that in mind, the media also has a role to play, too, and applying added pressure to an already pressure-filled situation is not helping anyone.

 

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