PARIS – French authorities faced a storm of criticism on Monday following the chaotic scenes of confusion and violence during the Champions League final between Real Madrid and Liverpool near Paris this weekend, tarnishing the situation. France’s image as a capable host ahead of major sporting events like the 2024 Summer Olympics.
But the French government has acknowledged some shortcomings, instead doubling down on its claim that the chaos was caused mainly by tens of thousands of Liverpool supporters who converged on the Stade de France, the stadium north of Paris where the match was taking place. , with fake banknotes or no banknotes at all.
Gérald Darmanin, France’s interior minister, told a press conference on Monday that the “root cause” of the chaos was a “massive, industrial and organized fraud of counterfeit banknotes” – around 30,000 to 40,000, according to his account, a figure he said he was backed by UEFA, European football’s governing body.
“Obviously there is nothing to be proud of what we saw on Saturday evening,” Mr Darmanin said, but he praised French police for preventing people from being injured or run over at dead.
Mr Darmanin dismissed questions about France’s preparation for the Summer Games and the 2023 Rugby World Cup, which the country is also hosting, as ‘disproportionate’, blaming Saturday’s events on Britain’s feet .
“It is clear that it is only in football – and in particular, within football, with certain British clubs – that this kind of situation occurs,” he said – even if football Frenchman himself faced an upsurge in violence, including on Sunday when angry supporters invaded the pitch of a game between Auxerre and Saint-Étienne.
British and French politicians have attacked French authorities for their handling of the situation and called for an investigation into crowd control and security breaches at the stadium.
Many supporters complained about the aggressive use of tear gas and pepper spray by French police before the match, and then being targeted by pickpockets near the Stade de France after the match had ended.
For France, the optics were not good.
“Yesterday, 400 million people watched live on television, which I consider 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, the president of the municipal council of Seine-Saint-Denis, where the Stade de France is located and where many Olympic events will take place in 2024, said on Monday “very angry”.
“It’s not the first time that there have been big events in this stadium, because the Stade de France has been in Saint-Denis for 24 years,” Troussel told franceinfo. “It is the third Champions League final that is organized there. I have never seen such disorganization.
The final, which was to be played in St Petersburg but was moved to Paris after Russia invaded Ukraine, is the biggest annual event on the European sporting calendar — the continental equivalent of the Super Bowl — and has was an opportunity for France to showcase its skills in organizing large-scale sporting events.
But it was clear several hours before the game started on Saturday that something had gone wrong.
Crowds surrounding the area outside the Liverpool supporters’ part of the stadium, a body crush in the club’s signature red, quickly overwhelmed staff tasked with checking tickets. But inside the Stade de France, thousands of places in the Liverpool section were still empty as kick-off approached.
The start of the match was repeatedly delayed and eventually kicked off 36 minutes late, and French riot police deployed outside the stadium faced a build-up of largely peaceful but growing crowds. more frustrated, many of whom said they had tickets to enter.
Worse still, the presence of young locals trying to enter the stadium without tickets. Hundreds of people tried to scale fences, and many succeeded, social media posts show. The police response appears to have been to spray tear gas into the crowd, infuriating and scaring the waiting Liverpool fans.
Police then took the unprecedented step of locking down the Stade de France, with a UEFA official telling people trying to leave the stadium at half-time that it was safer to stay inside. However, this advice was not offered at the end of the match, and several fans of both teams reported being harassed and assaulted in the vicinity of the stadium.
The scene sparked a barrage of attacks on the French government from France’s far-right, which jumped on the mayhem with their usual talking points on immigration and crime. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Rally party, told a press conference that “hoards of criminals had descended on the Stade de France to rob and loot the supporters”.
Across the Channel, attempts by French authorities to deflect blame onto Liverpool supporters have only added to a long list of contentious issues in difficult Franco-British relations in recent years. Through a spokesman, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “extremely disappointed” with the treatment of Liverpool supporters, who were particularly scarred by the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989, when 96 supporters were crushed to death at died in a stadium.
Joanne Anderson, Mayor of Liverpool, writing on Twitter on Sunday, said she was “disgusted by the appalling management” and “rough treatment” of Liverpool fans by French police. She added that she had sent a letter to several officials, including Mr. Macron, to explain herself.
“Ashamed to put the blame on the fans,” Ms Anderson said.
Liam Byrne, a British lawmaker who was in Paris supporting Liverpool, said he was concerned about what he described as the “tale of lies” that fans were responsible for the problems.
“I have never seen a more hostile environment,” Mr Byrne told broadcaster Sky Sports. “From the start, the police, the security, everything was absolutely horrible.”
Merseyside Police, which serves Liverpool and which had deployed officers to France “as an observatory and adviser”, said in a press release that “the vast majority of fans behaved in an exemplary manner, arriving at the turnstiles early and queuing as instructed”.
Following a crisis meeting at the French Sports Ministry which included local officials, UEFA and police authorities, Mr. Darmanin, the Minister of the Interior, and Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, the Minister of Sports , expressed regret that around 2,700 ticketed fans were unable to enter the stadium to watch the match.
They also acknowledged that the flow of Liverpool fans approaching the stadium could have been better managed and that a handful of police officers failed to follow proper guidelines when using tear gas.
But they said ticket fraud by Liverpool supporters was mainly to blame. According to Mr. Darmanin, 70% of the tickets checked by stadium staff at the first checkpoints were fake.
“We had prepared a lot for hooliganism,” said Mr. Darmanin, but “a little less” for the confusion that occurred on Saturday.
It’s not uncommon for counterfeit tickets to circulate before major sporting events, and organizers usually have a plan to deal with this, including setting up checkpoints farther from the stadium. But many critics of France’s response say the number of alleged forgeries by French authorities was implausible.
Ronan Evain, executive director of Football Supporters Europe, an umbrella organization of supporter groups, who attended the match, said some fans had tried to enter with fake tickets or fake accreditations, but those numbers were “marginal “.
“They are trying to deflect the blame onto the 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.”