Olympics host Paris under scrutiny after Champions League 'fiasco'

Maryam El Hamouchi and Stuart Williams, Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 29 2022 10:42 PM

French riot police in front of Liverpool supporters at the end of the UEFA Champions League final between Liverpool FC and Real Madrid at Stade de France in Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, 28 May 2022. Real Madrid won 1-0. Yoan Valat, EPA-EFE
French riot police in front of Liverpool supporters at the end of the UEFA Champions League final between Liverpool FC and Real Madrid at Stade de France in Saint-Denis, near Paris, France, 28 May 2022. Real Madrid won 1-0. Yoan Valat, EPA-EFE

PARIS, France - French authorities faced questions Sunday over police tactics at the Paris Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid that descended into scenes of chaos before kick-off, with critics asking if the capital was ready to host the Olympics in two years' time.

Liverpool called for an investigation into the treatment of their supporters ahead of the game at Paris' Stade de France on Saturday which the club said left thousands of ticket holders struggling to enter the stadium.

But European football's governing body UEFA blamed a problem with fake tickets, while the French government criticized the behavior of the English fans. 

The chaos outside France's national stadium prompted the kick-off to be delayed by over half an hour before the match was eventually won 1-0 by the Spanish side.

The scenes -- which saw some fans manage to vault into the stadium while evading security and police use tear gas -- were not what the French capital wanted two years before it hosts the 2024 Olympics and one year before the same venue hosts the rugby World Cup final.

The French interior ministry said 105 people had been detained, of whom 39 were placed under arrest and remanded in custody meaning they could face charges.

UEFA blamed "fake tickets which did not work in the turnstiles" for the 35-minute delay to the final.

But Liverpool said they were "hugely disappointed" that their supporters had been subjected to an "unacceptable" breakdown of the security perimeter.

"We have officially requested a formal investigation into the causes of these unacceptable issues," the club said.

Merseyside Police, which had officers deployed in Paris, said "the vast majority of fans behaved in an exemplary manner".

The UK government's Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told Sky News that the English fans were "treated with a very aggressive approach."

But French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin pointed the finger at Liverpool fans, saying "thousands of British 'supporters' either without tickets or with fake ones forced their way through and sometimes behaved violently towards the stewards".

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said that "attempts at intrusion and fraud by thousands of English supporters complicated the work of the stadium staff and the police."

Yet political foes of the government and President Emmanuel Macron said that the scenes pointed to wider problems in France and shamed the country.

"The image this gives is lamentable and it is also worrying because we see that we are not prepared for events like the Olympic Games," far-left French politician Jean-Luc Melenchon told BFM-TV.

He denounced "a complete failure of the police strategy... the people were treated as they usually are during any kind of demonstration. We can't continue like this."

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen told RTL that the world had seen on Saturday that "France is no longer able to organize major events without things degenerating."

French newspaper Le Monde commented: "The party that was supposed to precede the final... was spoilt and turned into real chaos."

"From party to fiasco," said France's leading sports daily L'Equipe.

Merseyside's leading regional newspaper the Liverpool Echo argued that poor organization and not the Liverpool fans were to blame.

"UEFA's shameless attempts to control (the) Liverpool narrative show they'll never learn after Champions League disgrace," it said.

Aurore Berge, a deputy for Macron's ruling party, said Paris had "barely three months" to get ready for the final which it was awarded after Saint Petersburg was stripped of the event due to Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

Police fired tear gas after several dozen people attempted to climb over barriers, according to an AFP reporter on the scene, with security staff having to round up about 20 fans who succeeded in clearing the fence and getting into the ground.

Thousands of mainly Liverpool supporters were still massed outside the stadium with half an hour to go to kick-off.

UEFA said they were "sympathetic" to the fans affected and would review the situation together with local police and authorities,.

For Ronan Evain, executive director of the Football Supporters Europe network, the events "raises the question of France's ability to organize events of this size". 

"We continue to see the same organizational strategy that have already failed in the past. There is a very strong need to modernize the approach to securing these events," he told AFP.

In contrast to the scenes outside the stadium, Paris police noted that proceedings at two vast fans zones hosting thousands of supporters from both sides had taken place in a good atmosphere and without major incident.

Some 40,000 Liverpool supporters without a match ticket had packed into their zone in eastern Paris to enjoy the atmosphere. Despite the disappointment of defeat they left the area without any issue.

The Paris fire brigade -- which looks after all kinds of emergency situations -- said the night had largely been calm although it had treated some supporters for the effects of tear gas as well as excess alcohol consumption.