French league game halted after homophobic banners unfurled

Nice soccer fans light flares before the start of the French League One soccer match between Nice and Marseille at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, southern France, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)
Nice soccer fans light flares before the start of the French League One soccer match between Nice and Marseille at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice, southern France, Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. (AP Photo/Daniel Cole)

NICE, France — The French league game between Nice and Marseille was halted for several minutes during the first half Wednesday after Nice fans unfurled two banners with homophobic messages.

One banner referred to Tuesday's takeover of Nice by British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, Britain's richest man who is the owner of chemicals giant Ineos.

The banner displayed a play on words referring to the fact Ratcliffe also owns the Team Ineos cycling and using the term "pedale," which in French means "to pedal" in cycling but is also a derogatory term used to define gay people.

It read: "Welcome to the Ineos group: at Nice we also love to pedal."

Another banner at the Allianz Riviera criticized French league authorities for approving more fenced off sections in the stands, saying it makes for "more gay" stadiums. That was followed by sporadic chanting against the French league — or LFP — with an anti-gay slur.

Referee Clement Turpin interrupted the game midway through the first half — and play resumed about 10 minutes later.

Earlier this month, referee Mehdi Mokhtari stopped a second-division match between Nancy and Le Mans for about a minute after an initial appeal made over the speakers to stop homophobic chanting failed to have an effect. The game continued shortly afterward.

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