France blames ‘massive’ ticket fraud for Champions League fiasco

Stuart Williams and Adam Plowright, Agence France-Presse

Posted at May 31 2022 05:19 AM

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, May 28 2022. 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, May 28 2022. Yoan Valat, EPA-EFE

France on Monday blamed "massive" ticket fraud for the chaotic scenes that marred the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid that raised questions over the capacity of Paris to host the 2024 Olympics.

The French government has faced a barrage of criticism from press and politicians in Britain over policing of the match on Saturday, which saw thousands of Liverpool fans with tickets struggle to enter.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman told reporters in London many Liverpool fans were in the French capital "in good time".

"We're hugely disappointed by how they were treated," the spokesman added. "Fans deserve to know what happened."

But after a crisis meeting at the sports ministry, French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin defiantly insisted that ticket scams and the behaviour of Liverpool fans was to blame.

"What has been confirmed is a massive, industrial-scale and organised fraud in fake tickets... this was the root cause of the delay to the match," Darmanin said, also charging that Liverpool fans had been less well-organised than their Spanish counterparts. 

He also argued the fraud had been encouraged by Liverpool's request for paper tickets for their supporters, instead of electronic ones.

Darmanin added that there had been 30,000 to 40,000 Liverpool fans with fake tickets or without tickets outside the Stade de France.

"I remind you that the Liverpool coach several days ago -- and it's public -- called on supporters to come to France even without a ticket," Darmanin said.

European football's governing body UEFA announced later Monday that Portuguese politician Tiago Brandao Rodrigues would head up an independent probe that will "examine decision making, responsibility and behaviours of all entities involved in the final".

"Evidence will be gathered from all relevant parties," UEFA said. "The findings of the independent report will be made public."

Saturday's scenes tarnished the image of the French capital, raising questions about its ability to host major sporting events as it gears up for the 2024 Olympics, as well as the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

Leading French daily Le Monde echoed the British complaints Monday, saying the French authorities were "in denial" about their shortcomings that had turned the event into a "fiasco".

Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said French authorities were "extremely sorry" for the approximately 2,700 fans with tickets that were unable to enter the Stade de France because of the crowd problems.

She said French authorities had agreed with European football's governing body UEFA that they should be identified and receive compensation.

- 'Absolutely shambolic' -

Monday's meeting at the sports ministry involved UEFA, French football chiefs and the French police. Darmanin and Paris police chief Didier Lallement were both in attendance, along with Sports Minister Oudea-Castera.

Darmanin defended the police, saying officers had "prevented deaths" that might have been caused by crushes outside the stadium to the north of Paris.

He acknowledged that some officers had been seen making "inappropriate" use of teargas, after images posted on social media showed even children being targeted at close range.

But he said it was "rather low and disproportionate" to criticise the police, adding: "The decisions that were taken prevented deaths."

A criminal investigation into the fake tickets has been launched in France.

The chaos inevitably brought back painful memories for Liverpool, a club haunted by the 1989 Hillsborough disaster which cost the lives of 97 people in a stadium crush.

Labour MP for Liverpool area Ian Byrne, who was present at the match, told Sky News that the fans had been treated "like animals".

"It was horrific -- there's no other words to describe it. It was absolutely horrific and as someone who was at Hillsborough in 1989, it brought so many terrible memories flooding back," he said.

The mayor of Liverpool, Joanne Anderson, who was also at the scene, told the BBC that it was "absolutely shambolic but also the police behaviour was also really brutal."

Liverpool Football Club have requested a formal investigation.

- 'Not worried' -

The match was delayed by 36 minutes, almost unprecedented for an occasion of this magnitude and a huge embarrassment for UEFA and the French authorities.

But Oudea-Castera insisted France was capable of hosting major sporting events.

"I am not worried, I am very committed that we learn absolutely all the lessons from what happened on Saturday evening to improve everything," she said.

Paris had been awarded the final three months ago after Saint Petersburg was stripped of the event because of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

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.

In another instance of football trouble in France, angry Saint-Etienne fans invaded the pitch after were they were relegated from Ligue 1 on Sunday in their play-off against Auxerre, with French police using tear gas.

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