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The Ugly Side Of The 'Beautiful Game'

Paris Saint Germain soccer fans at the Kop de Boulogne section yell during the French Cup soccer match PSG v Lille, Tuesday April 11, 2006 at the Parc des Princes stadium. Many of the fans of this section are members of hooligan gangs that prowl the stadium grounds on match day, looking for a rumble with Arab members of a multiethnic rival gang.(AP Photo/Jacques Brinon)
AP Photo
Warming up on the touchline, a black player jogs toward fans at the Parc des Princes soccer stadium. As he gets closer, a barrage of monkey chants explodes, "OOOH! OOOH! OOOH!" and racist insults fill the air.

Such scenes are increasingly common at the home stadium of Paris Saint-Germain, or PSG, one of France's top soccer teams, and are finding racist expression in elite soccer leagues across Europe, raising fears that a global sport that calls itself "the Beautiful Game" is getting uglier.

Many of the fans yelling insults are members of hooligan gangs that prowl the stadium grounds on match day, looking for a rumble with black and Arab members of a multiethnic rival gang.

Yet interviews with gang members and repeated visits to PSG games found that racist hooligans operate openly and with almost total impunity at the 43,000-seat ground on the western outskirts of the French capital.

Soccer, with its many black stars, ought to be a showcase of multiracial harmony, especially in France, which draws heavily on talent from its former African colonies.

Instead, the brawling soccer fans have emerged as the extreme fringe of a deeply troubled France, one that is grappling with stiffening resistance to immigration, protests linked to youth unemployment and the perceived threat of globalization.

Now, after the riots that engulfed immigrant-filled French suburbs last fall, beer-fueled racism in soccer has taken on an even more menacing tinge.

Unlike soccer hooliganism elsewhere, in which the antagonists are fans of rival teams, the clashes outside Parc des Princes are largely between fans rooting for the same team, PSG.

On the bleachers of Parc des Princes, PSG supporters divide along racial lines in two opposing sections of stands, the Kop of Boulogne behind one goal and the Tribune d'Auteuil behind the other.

Boulogne is nearly entirely Caucasian; Auteuil is multiracial and includes whites.