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Under Fire for Chaos at Soccer Final, France Rejects Blame for Failures


PARIS — French authorities faced a firestorm of criticism on Monday following the chaotic scenes of confusion and violence on the Champions league final between Real Madrid and Liverpool near Paris over the weekend, tarnishing France’s image as a capable host ahead of major sporting events just like the 2024 Summer Olympics.

However the French government has acknowledged few failings, doubling down as a substitute on its assertion that the chaos had been caused primarily by tens of hundreds of Liverpool fans who converged on the Stade de France, the stadium north of Paris where the sport was held, with fake tickets or no tickets in any respect.

Gérald Darmanin, the French interior minister, said at a news conference on Monday that the “root cause” of the chaos was a “massive, industrial and arranged fraud of faux tickets” — roughly 30,000 to 40,000, by his account, a figure he said was supported by UEFA, European soccer’s governing body.

“Obviously there may be nothing to be pleased with with what we saw Saturday evening,” Mr. Darmanin said, but he praised French police for stopping people from being injured or crushed to death.

Mr. Darmanin dismissed questions over France’s preparedness for the Summer Games and the 2023 Rugby World Cup, which the country can be hosting, as “disproportionate,” laying the blame for Saturday’s events squarely at British feet.

“Clearly there is simply in soccer — and particularly, inside soccer, with certain British clubs — that this sort of situation occurs,” he said — regardless that French soccer has faced rising violence itself, including on Sunday, when indignant fans invaded the sector of a game between Auxerre and Saint-Étienne.

Politicians in Britain and France have assailed French authorities for his or her handling of the situation and called for an investigation into crowd control and security failings on the stadium.

Many supporters complained concerning the aggressive use of tear gas and pepper spray by French police ahead of the sport, after which over being targeted by pickpockets near the Stade de France after the sport ended.

For France, the optics weren’t good.

“Yesterday, 400 million people watched survive television what I consider to be a humiliation for our country,” Michel Savin, a right-wing senator who chairs a parliamentary committee on sporting events, said in a statement on Sunday.

Stéphane Troussel, the pinnacle of the local council in Seine-Saint-Denis, where the Stade de France is positioned and where many Olympic events will likely be held in 2024, said Monday that he was “very indignant.”

“It isn’t the primary time that there are big events on this stadium, since the Stade de France has been in Saint-Denis for twenty-four years,” Mr. Troussel told Franceinfo. “It’s the third Champions League final that’s organized there. I’ve never seen such disorganization.”

The ultimate, which was imagined to be played in St. Petersburg but was moved to Paris after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, is the most important annual event on the European sports calendar — the continent’s equivalent of the Super Bowl — and was a possibility for France to showcase its organizational skills for large-scale sporting events.

But it surely was clear several hours before the sport began on Saturday that something had gone unsuitable.

Crowds surrounding the realm outside the a part of the stadium reserved for Liverpool fans, a crush of bodies within the club’s signature red, quickly overwhelmed staff accountable for checking tickets. But contained in the Stade de France, hundreds of seats within the Liverpool section were still empty as kickoff approached.

The beginning of the sport was repeatedly delayed, and eventually kicked off 36 minutes late, and French riot police deployed outside the stadium were faced with a buildup of largely peaceful but increasingly frustrated crowds, a lot of whom said they’d tickets to enter.

Making matters worse was the presence of local youths attempting to make it into the stadium without tickets. A whole lot tried to scale fences — with many succeeding, as seen in social media posts. The police’s response appeared to have been to spray tear gas into the group, angering and scaring the waiting Liverpool fans.

The police then took the unprecedented step of locking down the Stade de France, with a UEFA official telling people trying to depart the stadium at halftime that it was safer to stay inside. That advice was not offered when the sport ended, nevertheless, and several other fans of each teams spoke of being harassed and mugged within the areas surrounding the stadium.

The scene prompted a barrage of attacks against the French government from the French far-right, which jumped on the chaos with its usual talking points on immigration and crime. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right National Rally party, said at a news conference that “hordes of criminals had descended on the Stade de France to rob and loot supporters.”

Across the English Channel, French authorities’ attempts to deflect blame onto Liverpool supporters only added to an extended list of contentious issues within the rocky Franco-British relationship of recent years. Through a spokesman, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was “hugely disenchanted” by the treatment of Liverpool fans, who’re especially marked by the Hillsborough tragedy of 1989, when 96 fans were crushed to death in a stadium.

Joanne Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, writing on Twitter Sunday, said she was “disgusted by appalling management” and “brutal treatment” of the Liverpool fans by French police. She added that she had sent a letter to several officials, including Mr. Macron, for a proof.

“Shameful to pin blame on fans,” Ms. Anderson said.

Ian Byrne, a British lawmaker who was in Paris to support Liverpool, expressed concern for what he described because the “narrative of lies” that fans were guilty for the issues.

“I’ve never ever seen a more hostile environment,” Mr. Byrne told the broadcaster Sky Sports. “From the outset the police, the safety, every thing about it was absolutely awful.”

The Merseyside Police, which serves Liverpool and which had deployed officers in France “in an observatory and advisory capability,” said in a press release that “the overwhelming majority of fans behaved in an exemplary manner, arriving at turnstiles early and queuing as directed.”

After a crisis meeting on the French sports ministry that included local officials, UEFA and police authorities, Mr. Darmanin, the inside minister, and Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, the sports minister, expressed regrets that an estimated 2,700 ticket-bearing fans had not been capable of enter the stadium to observe the sport.

In addition they acknowledged that the flow of Liverpool fans approaching the stadium might have been higher handled, and that a handful of cops had not used proper guidelines when using tear gas.

But they said that ticket fraud by Liverpool supporters was mostly guilty. In accordance with Mr. Darmanin, 70 percent of tickets checked by stadium staff at initial checkpoints were fake.

“We had prepared rather a lot for hooliganism,” Mr. Darmanin said, but “a bit less” for the confusion that occurred on Saturday.

It isn’t unusual for fake tickets to flow into before major sporting events, and organizers typically have a plan to cope with those, including organising checkpoints further away from the stadium. But many critics of France’s response say that the variety of fakes alleged by French authorities was implausible.

Ronan Evain, the chief director of Football Supporters Europe, an umbrella organization of fan groups, who attended the sport, said there have been some supporters who had tried to enter with fake tickets or fake accreditation but that those numbers were “marginal.”

“They try to deflect the blame on Liverpool fans,” he said. “I believe they’re selecting between a domestic political crisis and a diplomatic crisis with the UK and so they have chosen the second option.”

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