The French football league president Frederic Thiriez has denied that postponing Marseille's match against Paris Saint-Germain at late notice was the catalyst for widespread violence erupting in Marseille's city centre. Fans of the bitter rivals had running battles after Sunday night's game - scheduled for 9pm local time (midnight UAE) and televised on satellite TV - was called off about six hours before the kick off because PSG players Ludovic Giuly, Mamadou Sakho and Jeremy Clement had contracted swine flu. That meant thousands of fans were able to mingle in the city centre.
"Claiming that they [the incidents] are linked to the postponing of the match is intellectual fraud, unfortunately these fights were prearranged," Thiriez told sports daily L'Equipe. Nearly a dozen people were injured after the violence. One PSG supporter was hit by a car and was hospitalised with a broken leg while a police officer was slightly injured. The Marseille president Jean-Claude Dassier called the decision to postpone the game "late and skimpy" on Sunday, adding: "Let's hope I won't have to call it a dangerous decision before the end of the evening.".
The French League had initially said on Saturday that the game would go ahead despite the first two swine flu cases - Giuly and Sakho - being diagnosed. But PSG announced only a few hours before the game was due to start that Clement had also been hit by the virus and two other staff members were having similar symptoms. The PSG players and staff members have been be quarantined for the next 48 hours.
Thiriez said that the "players' safety is more important that any other consideration" and apologised to the fans, clubs and French television station Canal Plus, which holds the broadcasting rights. * AP