PARIS – With a racist song ringing in his ears, a black man trying to board a subway train in Paris stands back after twice being pushed away by a group of Chelsea soccer fans.
Sharply dressed in a long overcoat and with a bag hanging from his left shoulder – most likely on his way home from work – the man does not manage to get on the train. A black woman, preferring to move away from the mob, walks off moments later.
The incident happened Tuesday at Richelieu Drouout metro station, a short time before Chelsea played Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League. On Wednesday, the Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation into racially-motivated violence on public transport.
In a video of the incident posted online by the Guardian newspaper, the black man tries to board the train and is pushed away. He then pushes back and says in French “Can I get on or what?” before again being shoved away.
The carriage, mixed with Parisian commuters and English football fans making their way to the game, is packed. But there is enough standing space for one more person, as is evident when the man steps inside before being pushed away the first time.
The group – some of whom chanted “Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea” – then sing “we’re racist, we’re racist, and that’s the way we like it.”
At about that time, several Paris transport officials walk past the group, but do not intervene, and the black woman leaves the adjacent carriage.
The identities of the men in the video, including the victim, have not yet been established, prosecutor’s office spokeswoman Agnes Thibault-Lecuivre told The Associated Press. The maximum penalty possible according to the French criminal code is three years in prison and a 45,000 euro ($51,000) fine.
London’s Metropolitan Police said it will examine the footage to see if any banning orders can be applied, and will assist French authorities to “identify the people involved.”
Chelsea said it would also take action – including banning orders – if possible.
“Such behavior is abhorrent and has no place in football or society,” the English club said in a statement. “We will support any criminal action against those involved.”
UEFA, the governing body of European soccer, said it could not take any action.
“We are appalled by the incident,” UEFA said in a statement. “However, as it occurred away from the stadium, it is outside UEFA’s remit to act.”
The incident in Paris happened the same day as former Italy coach Arrigo Sacchi was criticized for saying that “there are too many colored players” in the youth sides of Italian clubs.
FIFA President Sepp Blatter condemned those comments as well as the fans in Paris.
“Pride and dignity is not a question of skin colour. Shocked by Arrigo Sacchi’s comments. Stop it,” Blatter tweeted. “I also condemn the actions of a small group of Chelsea fans in Paris. There is no place for racism in football!”
In the hours leading up to Tuesday’s match, a large group of rowdy Chelsea fans congregated around two bars in the Chatelet area in central Paris. About 40 Riot police and a dozen police spotters were there to prevent a repeat of the violent clashes between Chelsea and PSG hooligans that took place in the same area before last year’s Champions League quarterfinals.
On Tuesday, plainclothes police escorted three separate groups of Chelsea fans to the underground station at Etienne Marcel. After a change of trains, the route to the Parc des Princes goes through Richelieu Drouout station.
Lord Ouseley, the chairman of Kick It Out – an organization which campaigns against discrimination – called for Chelsea, and football, to avoid complacency over incidents of a similar nature.
The video was filmed by Paul Nolan, a British man living in Paris. He said the incident occurred at about 7:30 p.m. The match started at 8:45 p.m.
“A train pulls in and I see lots of people, very crowded, there seems to be quite a lot going on,” Nolan told BBC radio. “People on board are British and they’re Chelsea fans. They’re chanting ‘Chelsea, Chelsea, Chelsea.’ Before we heard the racist chants, there were some mentions of World War II. It seemed very aggressive.”