The French government and UEFA have announced investigations into the events before, during and after Saturday night’s UEFA Champions League final. It was the kind of scenes the European game had long hoped was behind them: supporters (including children) sprayed with pepper spray, individuals without tickets shoving their way through or over gates, supporters attacked and intimidated, supporters parked for hours in dangerous conditions.
Truth is not only the first casualty of war; it is also the first victim in situations like the one we witnessed on Saturday evening. Different sides defending their corner, half-truths and pure inventions, mistrust and tribalism, cultural differences and accusations, age-old prejudices and historical fears… all amplified by social media and sometimes decontextualized by a 24/7 news cycle and 7 days a week.
What we need now is a full investigation: calm, transparent and independent. In fact, we need several, and it is right that UEFA has commissioned an independent investigation to accompany France’s. What is not Helpful are comments like those from France’s sports minister, Amelie Oudea-Castera, who said Liverpool “leave their supporters out in the wild” as if they were rabid animals.
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French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said more than two-thirds of the 62,000 Liverpool supporters he said turned up at the Stade de France had presented fake tickets. This may or may not be true, just as it may or may not be true that the actions taken by law enforcement were, as he claims, “proportionate” and helped to “avoid death or serious injury”. But I don’t know how you can make such a claim less than 36 hours after the game, and I’m not the only one.
“I would just say that we are incredibly surprised that someone in this position is commenting in the first place at this point when we haven’t had enough time to figure out what happened,” said the Liverpool CEO Billy Hogan. He was talking about Oudea-Castera, but he could just as well have been talking about Darmanin. “There has not been an independent investigation to establish all the facts… There has to be this independent and transparent investigation into what happened. We should know all the facts to make sure that the scenes that we have all seen are absolutely disgraceful. , from saturday never happen again.
“Everyone should be focused on the proper investigation and less on the inflammatory comments trying to deflect responsibility for what happened on Saturday night.”
He’s right: we know bad things have happened. The “who” is important, but so are the “why” and the “how”, and in situations like these, your best-case scenario breaks down into two parts.
The first is that those who have done wrong are held accountable. On this occasion, this list could include organizers, law enforcement, local criminals, ticketless fans and those who sold counterfeit tickets. I pray for justice, but I’m not holding my breath on this one. Such was the chaos, such is the willingness of officials to close ranks, such is the willingness of victims to put everything behind them that, frankly, justice here might end up feeling like a bonus. But there is a secondary aspect: learning from mistakes and making sure they don’t happen again. Here, I’m a bit more optimistic for the simple reason that in addition to reputational damage, there’s money at stake. Lots of money.
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The Champions League final is the European game’s answer to the Super Bowl. It’s not just the game itself and the VIPs who attend either; it’s the whole carnival that surrounds it, a carnival that UEFA hopes to monetize and market further, by turning it into a week-long event. On Saturday night, not only were the grassroots supporters abused – perhaps Liverpool fans should have endured more, but it was by no means an easy ride for the Real Madrid faithful either – but also many VIPs , business partners and high rollers who make a point of attending these events.
Indeed, the events of Saturday had a perverse effect of democratization. You may have arrived in a Rolls-Royce, clutching your €12,000 hospitality package ticket, but once you get out of the car, a few blocks from the first security cordon, you’re just a mere civilian, facing the same obstacle course of queues, run-overs and, if you’re unlucky, brutal police.
This may sound cynical and rude, but it is, more than anything, what is likely to spur action. In addition to ordinary fans, there were corporate sponsors, business partners, politicians, past and present players, club officials and federation officials who found themselves with an evening to forget. And their voices matter, sometimes more.
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It’s the year 2022. It’s not unreasonable to expect that people of all socio-economic status will be able to catch the biggest game in club football without having to show up six hours early, without needing to be guided from point A to point B on an official tour, without enduring a military glove, without biblical queues in confined areas, without being robbed or cheated, and without feeling unsafe, especially at the hands of the very people who are there to protect them (the police).
We can do better. I don’t know how to get there, other than establishing the facts and being smarter about how we organize these events, but I know that fans deserve better and football deserves better.