PARIS — Referees have been told by the head of French soccer to ignore a FIFA directive and no longer stop matches when there is homophobic chanting.
In response, anti-discrimination groups urged Noel Le Graet, the French Football Federation president, to resign.
Several league games in the top two French divisions have been halted by referees this season. But Le Graet wants referees to let play continue if there are more homophobic chants, starting from this weekend.
"To say that football is homophobic, and could be the only symbol of homophobia in France, that’s a bit strong. I don’t accept it," Le Graet told France Info radio station on Tuesday. "We’ll make sure there are no more banners (in stadiums); that’s different. But stopping games, no."
Le Graet said he is against homophobia but added that matches should be stopped only in cases of racism — such as racist chanting or monkey noises aimed at black players — or security problems such as fan violence.
"Stopping matches (for homophobic chanting) doesn’t interest me. It’s an error," Le Graet said. "I would stop a game for racist chants, that is clear. I would stop it for a fight, for incidents, if there is a danger somewhere inside the stadium."
FIFA earlier this year reminded federations and referees to follow a three-step procedure which allows them to stop, suspend and ultimately abandon a game if discriminatory behaviour persists. FIFA did not respond to an email requesting comment on Le Graet’s order.
The Rouge Direct group, which campaigns against homophobia in French stadiums and sport, called on Le Graet to resign and withdraw his comments immediately.
Spokesman Julien Pontes said the group would go to court if he refuses to do so, saying it would argue that the FFF boss was discriminating between different forms of discrimination and making homophobia appear less of an issue than racism.
"He must leave," Pontes said of the FFF head. "At a minimum, he must withdraw what he said."
Pontes also called for "a very firm reaction" from President Emmanuel Macron’s office and his sports minister Roxana Maracineanu.
French anti-racism organization SOS Racisme also hit out, saying in a statement that "Le Graet’s words contribute to undermining the efforts" made in the fight against all forms of discrimination — be it racism, homophobia or sexism.
"It’s time for Noel Le Graet to retire," SOS Racisme said in a statement.
Maracineanu rebuked Le Graet and reminded him of his leadership responsibilities in the "fight against all forms of discrimination," adding that she will continue to "watch over the protection of all our citizens."
Last month, Maracineanu congratulated referee Mehdi Mokhtari for interrupting a second division game between Nancy and Le Mans after homophobic chanting.
The high-profile first division match between Nice and Marseille on Aug. 29 was halted for several minutes during the first half after Nice fans unfurled three banners with homophobic messages. There was also sporadic chanting against the French league with an anti-gay slur.
Le Graet urged stadium stewards and security officials to do a better job in preventing fans from bringing banners to games.
"Don’t come to stadiums with banners, it’s as simple as that," he said. "We’ll make sure that they won’t be able to get in."