Saturday on the occasion of the reception of Bastia, the group of supporters of Gladiators Nîmes 1991 was refused entry to its drums, megaphones and tarpaulins in its Costières stadium. For its president Dimitri Pialat, this is just another proof of the extreme authority shown by Rani Assaf, president of Nîmes Olympique, towards them. While tensions had already been exacerbated for more than a year already, this weekend has just marked a new turning point which should be settled in court.
Interview by Alexandre Le Bris
Since October 2021, our Pesage Est stand is closed, which means that we no longer attended Nîmes Olympique home matches. But there are only five games left at Les Costières before its destruction, so we thought we would come back there exceptionally, in the south stand, during the match against Bastia.
How did events unfold from that point on?
An hour after communicating the information, the referent of the supporters called me to explain to me that Rani Assaf would not authorize any distinctive sign of the Gladiators in the stands, that is to say the drums, megaphones, and especially the tarps. But in our “ultra mentality” , we can’t imagine going there without the tarp. We encourage the Nîmes Olympique team and club behind it. We, our goal was to encourage the team, because it really needs it, while putting aside our differences with management. We had promised that there would be no abusive language.
“The police are aware that Rani Assaf has broken the law. »
What alerts you the most to this measure taken against you by Rani Assaf?
He just doesn’t have the right. And when someone makes his own law, it’s a totalitarian regime. It’s a Rani Assaf dictatorship. It may only be football, but your freedom is eaten away.
How did you react ?
The police called me the morning of the meeting to officially warn me that the tarps would not fit. I therefore warned them that it was not legal, something to which they replied that Rani Assaf was aware and that he would bear the consequences. That is to say that the police are aware that Rani Assaf has not respected the law.
Did you still show up at the stadium?
Yes. There were 200 of us and we were refused entry, as expected. So we stayed in front of the Costières, without bothering people entering the stadium or insulting anyone. We sang for about twenty minutes, until the match started.
— Colin Delprat (@ColinDelprat) September 11, 2022
What are the reasons given by Rani Assaf to deny you access with your equipment?
He tries to explain his decision not to bring in the tarps by explaining that it can cause public disorder. Except that during the match, he was insulted by a majority of the south stand. Like what, the tarp is not entered, but the mess has been made. And then it was just a banner “GN 91” , it cannot cause any problems, unless it is mined. But it’s not, it’s 100% cotton. It’s ridiculous.
“We have reached a breaking point. We had done everything in the rules with good intentions. There, we understood that he wanted to get rid of us at all costs. »
Do you plan to give a legal follow-up to the events?
Of course, there will be lawsuits. The National Supporters’ Association advised us to hire a lawyer. It is a deprivation of fundamental freedom, quite simply. We had our tickets, we respected the rules of procedure and we were refused entry.
What conclusions do you draw from this funny day?
We have reached a breaking point. We had done everything in the rules with good intentions. There, we understood that he wanted to get rid of us at all costs. But the group is not about to die out, we mobilized 200 people who came being sure not to return. We feel a lot of anger, but also sadness. We hope that we will all find a unity behind Nîmes Olympique.
It seems more complicated with a completely closed grandstand, the Pesage Est grandstand. Why has this been the case for a year now?
Because we are in contradiction with Rani Assaf. He wants football like in the theater, and we don’t want a sanitized stadium. It was around the issue of smoke bombs that there was a problem. We wanted controlled use by wanting to make a moral commitment to use them reasonably, because we understand the economic measures that result with the League’s fines. We were trying to find an agreement to use them two to three times a year for exceptional events.
How did the discussions with Rani Assaf go?
This time he said: “The law is the law, period. » He wanted to condition the opening of the forum to a signing of a charter to regulate further. We were honest in refusing, knowing that there are already rules of procedure. He therefore decided to close the gallery.
“We were recognized as a Southern audience, now it’s the Wild West with the ball of straw passing through the middle. »
However, you are not the only ones to use this forum…
That’s the most annoying thing, he put all the supporters in the same bag and penalized them. This season, he made a financial gesture by putting a price at 10 euros, the price in Weighing East, on the side. But there is a personal and nostalgic attachment to our platform. A guy said to me: “I have been coming to Pesage Est since I was very small with my father, I will not leave this forum to go elsewhere. »
Last season, the Costières welcomed less than 2,000 spectators per match on average, which made it the penultimate attendance in Ligue 2 for the season. Has the conflict gone far beyond the simple framework of Rani Assaf against Gladiators?
Me, I’m a pure Nîmes and I can tell you that people are disgusted. They won’t return to the stadium as long as Rani Assaf is still there. With this atmosphere, the results don’t even matter anymore. The atmosphere is almost dead at Les Costières, it is ten times worse than before. We were recognized as a Southern audience, now it’s the Wild West with the ball of straw passing through the middle.
In pre-season, Nîmes Olympique announced the creation of a supporters association, the “Grinta Club”. How do you view its first weeks of operation?
A year and a half ago, when the project was presented, we thought it was a good idea, it made it possible to federate. Quite quickly, this led to the abolition of subscriptions and the obligation to go through a membership in the “Grinta Club” to benefit from reductions. So already there, we had a problem. But to adhere to something, you have to believe in it. There, instead of federating, you take people hostage. The other problem is that the office had to be elected democratically, be independent of the club and represent the maximum number of people. First information that falls: the appointed president is Jean-Jacques Bourdin, the honorary president of the club and in a way, the right arm of Rani Assaf… What should have been a beautiful project is ultimately only an extension the influence of the club on the supporters.
Going back to the Gladiators, you were threatened with dissolution by the president last February. Where is this process?
The prefecture told him that he had no rights over it, he was kindly challenged. And we were far from having cause to be dissolved. Because for an association of the law 1901, it is almost necessary to arrive at acts of terrorism so that that succeeds.
How do you continue your activity without being able to enter Costières?
In the last two home games, we needed to be on the Pesage Est side, even if it was closed. So we did with the means at hand, we turned on a generator to which we connected a screen to follow the match.
For the second time this season, we were in front of our Pesage Est to watch our team’s match. Undesirables, but never very far from our colors pic.twitter.com/3SrlquiimK
— Gladiators Nimes 1991 (@Gladiators1991) August 29, 2022
What about away games?
We make all the trips outside, our tarpaulins are accepted and we also receive good receptions. In fact, we find the world before, the one before Rani Assaf. It is thanks to this that the association still has the link with the team, which is essential.
“We are a bit in a law of terror, I understand that the players do not take sides. Last season, a few players said they were against the closure of the academy. They were immediately put on the transfer list. »
How do you explain this surge of support from the ultras?
It’s Pandora’s box that can simply be opened. If we start letting events pass as is happening in Nîmes, it could happen everywhere, to all groups of supporters and it kills football.
Do you also receive support from players?
Nicolas Benezet is the only one to have done so publicly. We are a bit in a law of terror, I understand that the players do not take sides. Last season, a few players said they were against the closure of the academy. They were immediately put on the transfer list. When we meet the players individually, they tell us that it pisses them off, but that they can’t do anything about it.
What is happening in my club saddens me deeply, but unfortunately I am not the decision maker… I sincerely hope that a solution can be found so that everything goes back to how it was
— NICO D BENEZET (@NicolasBenezet) September 11, 2022
Precisely, Rani Assaf called Nicolas Benezet to order in the columns of Free lunch saying that he “would do well to heal up and get back quickly to play football and take care of football” . What inspires you?
Once again, it is worthy of a totalitarian regime. It is not because you are the employer that you have the right to “control his comments”, which are not scandalous either! It creates a climate of terror and tension in a locker room that will influence the sports performance of the players and therefore the results.
Interview by Alexandre Le Bris