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​Rebecca Larrivee ’13 would watch for signs of neo-Nazism and drug use
during games.

Class of 2013: Lives of Meaning and Purpose

Rebecca Larrivee ’13 Monitors Racism, Violence among Fans at Soccer Games in Paris

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following article, originally published in 2012, is one in a series of profiles on members of the Class of 2013, who will graduate on May 19. To read other profiles, go to the Commencement page.

After she graduates, Larrivee intends to relocate to France and accept a position at Sportitude.

Most fans in the stands at soccer games keep their eyes trained on the field. But Rebecca Larrivee ’13 (Uxbridge, Mass.) went to games to monitor something else: the fans themselves.

Larrivee, a global studies major with minors in business and French, spent eight months in France with Internship in Francophone Europe, the Paris Field Study and Internship Program. She held an internship with SOS Racisme, a non-governmental organization that monitors and combats discrimination.

In some ways, it was a traditional study abroad experience. Larrivee arrived in Paris in January, lived in dorm-style housing, and for five weeks studied French history, politics, art, and current events, followed by a week of vacation. Then her internship began.

Her assignment: the historic Parc des Princes, a 45,000-seat stadium that is home to the Paris Saint-Germain soccer team, known to fans as “PSG.”

Among the club’s supporters are two distinct fan associations: Boulogne Boys, made up of far-right white nationalists, and Supras Auteuil, which draws from France’s multi-ethnic population.

Like other rabid soccer fans in Europe, PSG’s supporters have engaged in “hooliganism” — violent acts against fans from rival clubs. PSG fans have been known to attack each other, especially fans from Boulogne and Auteuil.

After violent incidents in the past resulted in deaths, the French government banned association members from buying tickets and eliminated their exclusive seating areas. SOS Rascime began working with the French government and the team owners to monitor fan behavior in the stands for signs of trouble and to check the security response.

Undercover spectator

Incognito in the stands, Larrivee attended 15 soccer games. Her co-workers and she “would note anything that happens, in our heads or on our phones, and whether security intervened, to make sure the security was really up to par,” she said.

They looked for signs of racism, neo-Nazism, violence, drug use, and intoxication. Their reports were submitted after each game, then compiled and shared with PSG security and the French minister of the interior and minister of sport.

For Larrivee, who played soccer as a girl and avidly followed the 2010 World Cup, watching games in Paris was an eye-opener.

“The first game was completely different,” Larrivee said. “Visiting fans sit in a bulletproof, netted section. Extreme groups bring little homemade bombs, bombs agricole, like small firecrackers, and fumigenes, everlasting flames that can set things on fire. The first time I was there, I jumped every time there was a bomb going off, and the person I was with was laughing at me every time.”

Fans can’t drink alcohol at games, but they do smoke both cigarettes and marijuana “with little intervention,” Larrivee said. Security workers wear full riot gear.

She pretended to be “the disinterested girlfriend of whoever I was with.”

“In France, many women do not follow soccer,” Larrivee said. “So the reaction from a lot of people was ‘You’re a girl, interested in soccer, and you know something about soccer. And you’re an American.’ It was a big shock to a lot of people.”

It was also a surprise to her boss, Hermann Ebongue.

“It was about three months before he realized how passionate I was” about the work, Larrivee said. “It felt more like home there than I’ve ever felt before.”

When her internship ended in May, Larrivee stayed on in Paris, working to market Ebongue’s new organization, Sportitude, which focuses on violence in European soccer and its causes. She also worked under the security director at Parc des Princes to learn “the ins and outs of security before a match.”

Work continues

Sportitude is now working with the French soccer league and is finalizing a relationship with UEFA, the Union of European Football Associations, the governing body for European soccer. Larrivee’s knowledge of English and French has been essential. Since her return to the United States and to PC in late August, she has been translating reports into English for Sportitude. They will be presented to UEFA and to Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), an international organization that combats violence and racism in the sport.

In January, Larrivee will return to France for two weeks to help organize an international conference for Sportitude on hooliganism, racism, and violence, and to make a presentation to UEFA in Geneva. She has a job offer from Sportitude after commencement.  

Larrivee said she can’t believe she’s doing work that combines both her knowledge of French and her love of soccer.

“The internship has opened a lot of doors I didn’t know existed,” Larrivee said. “I met some of the biggest soccer coaches in the world. I might have a chance to work at World Cup 2014. That would be unbelievable.”

 

— Vicki-Ann Downing
 
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