Under Fire for Chaos at Soccer Final, France Rejects Blame for Failures

PARIS – French authorities face a firestorm of criticism following confusion and violence at the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool near Paris over the weekend, tarnishing France’s image as a capable host ahead of major sporting events like 2024 Summer Olympics.

But the French government has acknowledged a few failings, doubling down instead on its assertion that the chaos was likely to be tens of thousands of Liverpool fans who converted to the Stade de France, the stadium north of Paris where the game was held, with fake No tickets or no tickets at all.

Gérald Darmanin, the French interior minister, said at a news conference Monday that the “root cause” of the chaos was a “massive, industrial and organized fraud of fake tickets” – roughly 30,000 to 40,000, by his account, a figure he said said was supported by UEFA, European soccer’s governing body.

“Obviously there is nothing to be proud of with what we saw Saturday evening,” Mr. Darmanin said, but he praised French police for preventing people from being injured or crushed to death.

Mr. Darmanin dismisses questions over France’s preparedness for the Summer Games and the 2023 Rugby World Cup, which the country is also hosting, as “disproportionate,” blaming Saturday’s events squarely at British feet.

“Clearly there is only soccer – and in particular, within soccer, with certain British clubs – that this kind of situation happens,” he said – even though French soccer has faced rising violence itself, including on Sunday, when angry fans invaded. A game of field between Auxerre and Saint-.tienne.

Politicians in Britain and France have assailed French authorities for their handling of the situation and called for an investigation into crowd control and security failings at the stadium.

Many supporters complained about the aggressive use of tear gas and pepper spray by the French police ahead of the game, and then being targeted by pickpockets near the Stade de France after the game ended.

For France, the optics were not good.

“Yesterday, 400 million people watched live television on what I consider to be a humiliation for our country,” said Michel Savin, a right-wing senator who chairs a parliamentary committee on sporting events. statement on Sunday.

Stéphane Troussel, head of the local council in Seine-Saint-Denis, where the Stade de France is located and where many Olympic events will be held in 2024, said Monday that he was “very angry.”

“This is not the first time that there have been big events at this stadium, because the Stade de France has been in Saint-Denis for 24 years,” Mr. Troussel told Franceinfo. “It’s the third Champions League final that is organized there. I’ve never seen such disorganization. “

The final, which was supposed to be played in St. Petersburg but moved to Paris after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is the biggest annual event on the European sports calendar – the continent of the Super Bowl – and was an opportunity for France to showcase its organizational skills for large-scale sporting events.

But it was clear several hours before the game started on Saturday that something had gone wrong.

Liverpool fans reserved for the Liverpool fans, a crush of bodies in the club’s signature red, quickly overwhelmed staff responsible for checking tickets. But inside the Stade de France, thousands of seats in the Liverpool section were still empty as the kickoff approached.

The start of the game was repeatedly delayed, and eventually kicked off 36 minutes later, and French riot police deployed outside the stadium with a buildup of largely peaceful but consistently frustrated crowds, many of whom said they had tickets to enter.

Making matters worse was the presence of local youths trying to make it into the stadium without tickets. Hundreds tried to scale fences – with many succeeding, as seen in social media posts. The police’s response has been to spray spray tear gas into the crowd, angering and scaring the Liverpool fans.

The police then took the unprecedented step of locking down the Stade de France, with a UEFA official telling people to leave the stadium at halftime that it was safe to stay inside. That advice was not offered when the game ended, however, and several teams of both fans spoke of being harassed and mugged in the area around the stadium.

The scene prompted a barrage of attacks against the French government from the French far-right, which jumped on the chaos with its usual talking points on immigration and crime. Marine Le Pen, the far-right National Rally party leader, said at a news conference that “hordes of criminals had descended on the Stade de France to rob and loot supporters.”

Across the English Channel, French authorities’ attempts to deflect blame on Liverpool supporters have only added to a long list of contentious issues in the rocky Franco-British relationship in recent years. Through a spokesman, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “hugely disappointed” by the treatment of Liverpool fans, who were especially marked by the Hillsborough tragedy of 1989, when 96 fans were crushed to death at a stadium.

Joanne Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, writing on Twitter Sunday, said she was “disgusted by appalling management” and “brutal treatment” of Liverpool fans by French police. She added that she had sent a letter to several officials, including Mr. Macron, for an explanation.

“Shameful to pin blame on fans,” Ms. Anderson said.

Liam Byrne, a British lawmaker who was in support of Paris to Liverpool, expressed concern for what he described as the “narrative of lies” that fans were blaming for the problems.

“I’ve never seen a more hostile environment,” Mr. Byrne told the broadcaster Sky Sports. “From the outset to the police, the security, everything about it was absolutely awful.”

The Merseyside Police, which serves Liverpool and has deployed officers in France “in an observatory and advisory capacity,” said in a statement that “the vast majority of fans behaved in an exemplary manner, arriving at turnstiles early and queuing as directed.”

After a crisis meeting at the French sports ministry that included local officials, UEFA and police authorities, Darmanin, the interior minister, and Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, the sports minister, expressed regrets that an estimated 2,700 ticket-bearing fans had not been able to watch the game at the stadium.

They also acknowledged that the flow of Liverpool fans approaching the stadium could have been handled better, and that a handful of police officers had not used proper guidelines when using tear gas.

But they said that ticket fraud by Liverpool supporters was partly to blame. According to Mr. Darmanin, 70 percent of tickets checked by stadium staff at initial checkpoints were fake.

“We had prepared a lot for hooliganism,” Mr. Darmanin said, but “a little less” for the confusion that occurred on Saturday.

It is not uncommon for fake tickets to circulate before major sporting events, and organizers typically have a plan to deal with those, including setting up checkpoints further away from the stadium. But many critics of France’s response say the number of fakes alleged by the French authorities was implausible.

Ronan Evain, executive director of Football Supporters Europe, an umbrella organization’s fan groups, who attended the game, said there were some supporters who tried to enter with fake tickets or fake accreditation but that those numbers were “marginal.”

“They’re trying to deflect the blame on Liverpool fans,” he said. “I think they are choosing between a domestic political crisis and a diplomatic crisis with the UK and they have chosen the second option.”

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