Paris is Earning, Part 3

Free Market Football in the City of Light
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Photo by Moacir P. de Sá Pereira

Paris has never had a soccer team befitting its image of itself as the center of the world. For 40 years, Paris Saint-Germain Football Club has failed to live up to the lucrative standard of the rest of the city. Despite underperforming teams and a largely working-class fan base, the club has always seemed like it should give its owners a license to print money. The question then: can you gentrify a team? PSG did what unscrupulous developers have done for decades: They changed the rules, preyed on fears of crime, and cynically played for a newer, richer kind of fan. The third of a five-part series examining what happens to a football club when everyone’s eyes have turned to €€.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5 - Single page

By mid-December 2010, facing crowds about 75% the size of the year before, the PSG front office decided it was time for change of attitude regarding their reaction to the violence of the previous season between the kobistes of the Kop of Boulogne (the cheap seats behind one goal) and the Virage Auteuil (the cheap seats behind the other goal). They had canceled season tickets in these two “virages,” but despite other efforts at rebranding the club and attracting new fans, people were staying away even more than before. The depressed attendance was partly the result of continued boycotts by the former viragistes, who felt insulted by the new Tous PSG ticket program, which required them to get ID cards from the stadium in order to sit in the cheap seats, even though no such requirement existed for those wishing to sit in the more expensive seats.

In light of these troubling attendance figures, the team announced that winter break that season tickets in the virages would be again available starting the following month, with the same seats guaranteed until the end of the season. Furthermore, all seniority was restored to previous season ticket holders, as long as they would still submit to the Tous PSG requirements regarding registering with the team. Tous PSG, which Club President Robin Leproux had described as a “transitional and evolving policy,” had made its first transition.1

Further, PSG decided to permit supporter associations in the stands again, as long as they held to the “Charte 12,” a list of rules and regulations provided by the front office. Filed with PSG would be the association’s bylaws, official registration with the police, and a list of officers. Additionally, the association would provide a list of its members, including their names, addresses, and photocopies of IDs—all to be updated monthly. Expressions against the team, its players, directors, owners, or partners were banned. No more pyrotechnics, including metaphorical ones brought on by drinking alcohol or smoking grass, would be tolerated. Finally, the associations were to “support and promote the actions of the club or of government authorities [pouvoirs publics] in case of behavior contrary to the values mentioned above, particularly in cases needing intervention in the stands.” In exchange, the association would have the privileges of claiming up to 100 seats in the virage of their choice, coming in a half hour before each match to prepare, using a megaphone to coordinate cheers, and unfurling banners.

The return of associations to the stadium, though, was certainly not, in any form, a retreat by the front office. Please reread the previous paragraph to see the immense limitations put upon associations for the privilege of organization within the stadium. The casuals (English-style hooligans) and ultras (Italian-style “tifo” fans) of the earlier era had been able, in maintaining their anonymity, to suspend their individuality within the flow of the group, which became larger than the sum of its parts; in the concourses it was only in death that your personal, unique name was “spoken” by either being carved on a plaque or spraypainted on a wall in memory. In Auteuil especially, individuality was intentionally sacrificed for the sake of the tifo, the show of spirit: to chant in unison, to hold the right card at the right time, to cover yourself with the giant banner stretching over the entire stand, to be a node forever preparing a response to stimulus from the capo, or leader.

Unlike the flowing mass of group action in the virages before Tous PSG, the associations as currently permitted are not at all indivisible. Obviously, associations before Tous PSG were organized and structured; they had membership fees, officers, and income from various association-related memorabilia. But their internal structure was not the explicit business of PSG. So instead of a mass at the stadium, the associations are, now, rather, a series of individual units, a list of photos and names—kept current and limited to 100—considered as a set for policing purposes. These rows in a database have the privilege of providing pro-team “atmosphere” at the stadium. They also have the duty, should the police start beating up their fellow fans, to support the state action in the name of public safety.

The first group to cross the line and agree to the Charte 12 was Hoolicool, which was a family-friendly organization to begin with and also not located in the virages. Others did not hesitate in calling them “collaborators,” however. About a month later, two more groups, Titi-Fosi and Vikings 27, both also not from the virages, were recognized as official associations by PSG. I had intended on calling the team office to ask if more associations had emerged in the past ten months, but after going to a recent match and only seeing two banners—one from Titi-Fosi and one from the Vikings—I decided there was no point.

At Parc des Princes, the greatest victory is respect.

Finishing up this description of Tous PSG, however, requires addressing the most powerful means by which the team has sold the new policy to the general public. Intitially, Tous PSG was supposed to guarantee that Parc des Princes be attractive to “families, Mickey, and Pépito.” But quickly the focus changed, and now the program primarily guarantees that the stadium will be a “place of respect.” First introduced as a plan to reduce violence in and around the stadium, Tous PSG is now the proof of PSG’s public commitment to curbing racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia.2 This newfound commitment may seem odd, considering the front office’s somewhat relaxed earlier attitude regarding the racist chanting, existence of an all-white virage, and persistent violence by kobistes against racial minority supporters from Auteuil. Remember, the team only decided that it needed a new ticket policy after a bunch of Auteuil fans from the “cités” (read: uncontrollable black/brown youths from the suburban ghettos) “lynched” a white fan from the Kop of Boulogne.

What had started as generalized violence at Parc des Princes in the early 1980s became hooligan violence coupled with racism in the 1990s. Then, in 2010, in response to an act of racial violence, the team proposed an anti-violence policy that then morphed into a policy devoted to anti-racism. But the protests by shut out ex-viragiste season ticket holders have nothing to do with racism at the stadium. The motto of fan group Tous abonnés—“No to violence, but not like this!”—shows where the fans’ concern was: canceling season tickets and instituting an ID policy was a move by the team to kick out the lower-class members. Regardless of race or previous record of violence, they were now all presumed guilty of racism, anti-Semitism, or homphobia.

The protesters—and this includes fans from Auteuil, who had been direct victims of racist abuse—believe that their real crime is of being, simply, “the people.” Throughout their protest literature, they describe their virages as “the people’s stands” or “the working-class stands”(tribunes populaires). Ironically, considering that people of non-European backgrounds make up a disproportionate percentage of the lower classes in France, shutting out the working class has a side effect of shutting out the very people who would be targeted by the racism that the project that shuts them out is supposed to protect them against. So instead of addressing the class dynamic of creating a ticket and ID policy that only affects those who want to buy cheapest tickets, the front office’s focus on public expressions of anti-racism conveniently place the team in combat with the fact that, despite French promises about égalité and fraternité, racism certainly still exists in this Republic.3

But politicians’ and functionaries’ preaching a concern with eradicating racism is one means by which neoliberal policies hide their interest in maintaining economic inequality.4 Attracting both American-style “liberals” and libertarians with its professed commitment to individual rights, neoliberalism promises a world free of racism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism—but not of poverty. In this world, after all, as Wendy Brown writes, “all dimensions of human life are cast in terms of a market rationality.” Thus, as market mentality overcomes morality, race makes less sense as a technology for discrimination and more as an incidental cause for celebrating difference and identity. Eradicating discrimination, then, from the job market to the atmosphere in Parc des Princes, remains an alleged priority of both the neoliberal right, represented by Sarkozy and his UMP party, and the neoliberal left, represented by the Parti socialiste and their presidential candidate (and Ligue 2 fanatic), François Hollande.5

At Parc des Princes, PSG asked the most high-profile anti-racism group in France, SOS Racisme, to help run security at matches for the 2010–2011 season.6 At one match, there were about 30 activists in the stands, keeping track of any racism they heard or witnessed, in order to catch the perpetrators red-handed. One activist, a former Auteuil supporter, reported that, on the one hand, there was no racism at the Parc. Other other hand, there was also a distinct lack of atmosphere of any kind. The absence of racist incidents at the stadium led the SOS Racisme workers to start instead patrolling mores at Parc des Princes, by reporting if suspiciously large groups were forming, or if people were smoking pot.

As official partners of PSG, SOS Racisme consults on and can suspend supporter associations. This close relationship between anti-racist activists and the team was consummated at the February, 2011, match against Toulouse that began the first part of this article on Monday. Calling it a “Day of Respect,” PSG and SOS Racisme played a video about treating everyone at the Parc with respect and then had a moment of corporate tifo: a card trick that served to unify the entire stadium in its commitment to anti-racism. Finally, signs around the stadium and little cards on every seat displayed a six-point plan for showing respect. Anti-violence was pushed to a corner on the card and not mentioned at all in the video. The front office’s class discrimination against the old viragistes was never mentioned.

SOS Racisme’s high profile at Parc des Princes is akin to the UMP’s and PS’s cheering for racial diversity. Obviously, eradicating racist behavior is a good idea, but these campaigns make it look like racism is the only problem left to solve at the stadium, now that the market solution of Tous PSG is in place. A former season ticket holder from Auteuil might be overjoyed that Parc des Princes is now completely racism free. But when he sees that he has been priced out of a season ticket, or that he has to submit to having a special photo ID issued to him just to get his old seat back, all he can do is mumble an acceptance of the free market and some words about supply and demand. In pursuing a strictly anti-racist agenda, PSG has entirely ignored the class component of the protests and concerns of its former hard-core fans, while ensuring that the market for tickets seems inevitable and natural. And occasionally, conveniently for PSG’s owners, in the completely natural free market, an increase in demand leads to an increase in ticket prices.

But most importantly, Tous PSG proved that the team was serious about improving its negative reputation. It was ready to rehabilitate the brand. As I wrote in Monday’s section, Franklin Foer sniffed that, for someone with “liberal politics and yuppie tastes,” PSG had been off-limits because of the “cloud of virulent racism” trailing after it. Tous PSG was the giant electric fan, blowing that cloud out to the stinky, working-class suburbs whence it came. It is maybe time for the neoliberal, yuppie glory hunters to reconsider their love of Barça. PSG is ready for them and their piles of currency—in fact, pretty soon, if the team’s new owners get lucky, maybe only this elite will be able to afford a night of sport in gay Paree.

  1. Still, consider this: at the time of the announcement, the team had earned 17 points at home from nine matches. The previous season, at the same moment, it had 18—but that did not include a 2–1 victory over defending champions Olympique de Marseille. So despite a similar form and a match against their arch-rivals Marseille already in the bank to boost the average, attendance was way down: the first nine matches of 2009 averaged 36,801 spectators; a year later, 27,788. The effect of a lack of season tickets in the virages was also notable by the fluctuation in attendance from match to match. In 2009–2010, attendance slowly slipped over time except for bumps indicating matches against big teams. The attendance also rallied in the match against FC Girondins de Bordeaux, which was the first open home match after kobiste Yann Lorence was fatally injured in violence outside the stadium in February, 2010. The following season, attendance ping-ponged, hitting highs only for the two high-profile matches against Marseille and Olympique lyonnais. ↩

  2. Racism appears in soccer around the world, though the spotlight is usually put on Europe, where there are player pools that are both racially and culturally diverse as well as exceptionally high-profile. This article is not about racism in soccer, but I will say that soccer’s universalist anti-racism puts it at odds with the pluralist goal that would hypothetically engender anti-racism. After all, race is handled differently in different cultures, and cognates can be a slur in one language and a term of endearment in another. Considering, though, that both neoliberalism and anti-racism are universalizing projects, they go together rather nicely. ↩

  3. In a country where head shots are expected to accompany job applications and where, even in the absence of a head shot, an applicant’s name and address can usually tip their race, it should not be a surprise that racial discrimination, despite being illegal, plays a huge role in employment. Reports surface from time to time indicating that an employer will choose the ethnic French candidate over the colleague from Maghreb or West Africa four out of five times. ↩

  4. A critique of American “neoliberals” like William Julius Wilson and the Clinton braintrust makes up the 1993 epilogue of Michael Omi and Howard Winant’s important work Racial Formations in the United States. To them, “Neoliberals deliberately try to avoid racial themes, both because they fear the divisiveness and polarization… and because they mistrust the ‘identity politics’ whose origins lie in the 1960s.” In a footnote, they explain that their understanding of the term “neoliberal” comes from Charles Peters’s and Philip Keirling’s 1985 edited volume A New Road for America: The Neoliberal Movement. As mentioned in yesterday’s installment, there is a consonance between Peters’s sense of neoliberalism as he laid it out in his manifesto and the sense in which I use it in this article. The Democratic Party, even/precisely in its Clintonite “new” phase, is working on decade number three of being a completely neoliberal operation in its actions. Still, Omi and Winant’s gloss on neoliberalism is more or less the exact opposite of what I am arguing, which is why I bring it up. For them, neoliberalism hints at a non-racism that is color-blind. In this article, the non-racism is very much not color-blind, because color-blindness would subsequently eradicate a person’s (racial) identity. ↩

  5. I share Adolph Reed’s “suspicions about antiracism’s status within the comfort zone of neoliberalism’s discourses of ‘reform.’” Describing the situation in the US, he remarks that while Americans celebrate racial diversity as a “fulfillment of democracy,” the poor are excluded. Ascriptive statuses like race, which depend on who one is and not what one does, are the sole criteria by which neoliberals measure equality. In his work, Reed cautions against the ease by which people treat race and class as “fundamentally distinguishable,” instead of as “equivalent and overlapping elements within a singular system of social power and stratification rooted in capitalist labor relations.” My approach here is also influenced by Reed’s occasional co-conspirator, Walter Benn Michaels, who takes Reed’s “suspicions” and turns them into certainties in his two most recent books. In 2009, he wrote specifically about the new commitment to eradicating racial inequality in France, where “leftists” find that their commitment to anti-racism gets a very welcome audience in French boardrooms and in the supposedly right-wing presidential administration. All the same, Sarkozy occasionally shows an incomplete attachment to the anti-racist demands of neoliberalism, like in declaring multiculturalism a “failure” or in sacking Abderrahmane Dahmane, his “diversity” adviser, over disagreements on Islam. But although Sarkozy considers multiculturalism and national identity incompatible, for Michaels “national identity and diversity are complementary rather than contradictory; they are both technologies first for obscuring and then for legitimating economic inequality.” For the record, I don’t think Sarkozy is a racist; I think he has antiquated views on culture and identity that are inconsistent with the world his economic policies presuppose. Furthermore, I think that Michaels is right in arguing that, as long as the UMP and PS fight identity battles over who is the racist and who is the misogynist (this time around), the poor of France, which already disproportionately features women and racial minorities, will continue to get socially and economically isolated. ↩

  6. SOS Racisme first made their name at Parc des Princes with a sting operation in 1999, testing if a racial minority could get into the Kop of Boulogne. Mamadou Gaye was at first denied sale of a ticket for the Kop out of concerns for his safety. Then, ticket in hand, he was again denied entry into the Kop of Boulogne by stewards. ↩

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