President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for tough action against football fans who displayed a 30-metre long banner at a cup final accusing people from northern France of being "jobless, inbred paedophiles".
President Sarkozy, who was present at the Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) vs Lens match at the weekend, said that "hate-mongering" by Paris fans was "unacceptable". Other politicians called for the league cup final, won 2-1 by PSG, to be replayed to teach the Parisian fans a lesson.
The incident has provoked fury and consternation among French people who have been going in droves to see a comic film that mocks the anti-northern prejudices of Parisians and southerners. The movie, Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis, has shattered box-office records in France in the last month and looks likely to become the most popular French movie of all time.
The film gives a humorous, good-natured portrait of the oddities of language and culture of the "Ch'tis", natives of the most northerly French region, the Nord-Pas de Calais.
At Saturday night's match against a northern club, Racing Club de Lens, Paris supporters briefly displayed a long banner which said: "Pédophiles, chomeurs, consanguins: bienvenue chez les ch'tis." (Paedophiles, unemployed and in-bred: welcome to the home of the ch'tis).
Paris fans have the reputation of being the most violent, stupid and racist in France. This was the first time, however, that they had tried to stir up hatred against an entire region.
President Sarkozy attended the match at the Stade de France, just north of Paris, with his 10-year-old son, Louis. When he saw the banner, displayed at the beginning of the second half, he told the president of the French football league, Frédéric Thiriez, that he would walk out unless it was removed. Within four minutes the banner was gone.
A spokesman for one of the most excitable tribes of PSG fans, the "Boulogne Boys", apologised yesterday and blamed a small minority of hot-heads. The banner was, however, draped across many seats allocated to PSG fans. It was smuggled into the Stade de France in squares of cloth and then assembled inside. This did not suggest the action of a small minority.
Politicians in northern France called on PSG yesterday to agree to a replay of the final. French football league rules, however, would appear to make this impossible.
The Elysée Palace said that President Sarkozy had been the, "shocked witness of the display of a hate-mongering banner" at Saturday night's match. "The head of state expects this kind of unacceptable behaviour to be punished in an appropriate manner," the statement said.
A preliminary investigation has been launched into "provocation of hatred and violence" by persons unknown. Officials of PSG and the Stade de France said that they hoped to identify the culprits from seat numbers and closed-circuit TV cameras.
The writer and director of Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis, Dany Boon, described the banner as "shameful and lamentable".
"This is an act of human stupidity, no, inhuman stupidity" he said.
M. Boon, a stand-up comedian turned actor and film-maker, is himself from the Pas de Calais. The region has long been regarded – without first-hand knowledge – by many French people as beyond redemption: cold, wet and economically deprived.
M. Boon's movie seeks gently to reverse the prejudice by celebrating the warm-heartedness of the French north and turning the joke against the south.Reuse content