France Under Fire for Its Soccer Play

Thom Weidlich 06.02.22


France will have to engage in some fancy-footwork communications ahead of Paris hosting the 2024 Summer Olympics after a disastrous crisis Saturday night at the UEFA Champions League soccer final. The chaos outside the stadium has people questioning whether the country can handle a major sports event. It must convince the world that it can.

Liverpool and Real Madrid faced off at the Stade de France (pictured), the national stadium in Saint-Denis, just north of Paris (spoiler: Real Madrid won 1-0 in the biggest annual match for European soccer). According to French officials, between 30,000 and 40,000 Liverpool fans showed up with either fake or no tickets, numbers others say are wildly inflated.

The crush of fans outside the stadium meant an estimated 2,700 never got inside to see the game, whose start was delayed 36 minutes. Authorities locked down the stadium and wouldn’t let people leave at halftime, saying it wasn’t safe. Both teams’ fans said they were harassed and mugged outside after the match. Police used tear gas and pepper spray.

“For France, the optics were not good,” The New York Times put it. The situation has the French and the British, not exactly a mutual-admiration society, sniping at each other.

Crisis Meeting

The French sports ministry held a crisis meeting Monday that included local, UEFA and police officials. French interior minister Gérald Darmanin, at a press conference that day, blamed “massive, industrial and organized fraud of fake tickets” for the chaos and violence. He had unkind things to say about British soccer fans in general.

Liverpool Chairman Tom Werner, in a letter to French sports minister Amélie Ouéda-Castéra on Monday, demanded an apology for the treatment of his team’s fans and for French officials blaming them. Werner criticized Darmanin for making “a series of unproven pronouncements on a matter of such significance before a proper, formal, independent investigation process has even taken place,” according to the letter leaked to the Liverpool Echo. (The two ministers appeared at a Senate hearing yesterday.)

Werner has a point. One reason France, which will also host the 2023 Rugby World Cup, is coming under so much fire is that it has been quick to blame fans of the Liverpool club (owned by Boston-based Fenway Sports Group). Information at the start of a crisis is almost always wrong. Darmanin would have been wise to wait until tensions cooled.

‘Exemplary Manner’

U.K. officials have also gotten involved. Liverpool Mayor Joanne Anderson tweeted that she is writing French authorities, including President Emmanuel Macron, demanding some answers (“Shameful to pin blame on fans”). Police officers from Merseyside (which includes Liverpool) who had gone to France as observers reported that “the vast majority of fans behaved in an exemplary manner, arriving at turnstiles early and queuing as directed,” according to a police statement.

The UEFA, European soccer’s governing body, has tapped Portugal’s former education minister to conduct an independent investigation into the causes of the incident.

Photo Credit: ph.FAB/Shutterstock

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