French enquiry blames organisers for Champions League fiasco

A fact-finding mission led by two senators was set up after the Liverpool-Real Madrid game on May 28 which was marred by a delayed kick-off, crushes, teargas and street crime. — AFP pic

A fact-finding mission led by two senators was set up after the Liverpool-Real Madrid game on May 28 which was marred by a delayed kick-off, crushes, teargas and street crime. — AFP pic

Wednesday, 13 Jul 2022 8:54 PM MYT

PARIS, July 13 — An enquiry by the French Senate into crowd chaos at this year’s Champions League final in Paris concluded that organisers were to blame, not supporters, undermining claims by the police and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin.

A fact-finding mission led by two senators was set up after the Liverpool-Real Madrid game on May 28 which was marred by a delayed kick-off, crushes, teargas and street crime.

The investigation concluded that the problems were caused by a “string of dysfunctions” including a lack of preparation by French authorities and poorly executed security arrangements.

“These dysfunctions were at every level, not only during the implementation but also during preparations in advance,” the co-chair of the enquiry Laurent Lafon told reporters at a press conference.

The final report contradicted repeated statements from Darmanin that Liverpool fans were mostly responsible, with the minister claiming that up to 40,000 of them travelled to the stadium either with no tickets or with fake ones.

“The first statements (by the minister) do not match up with reality,” Francois-Noel Buffet, a fellow co-chair of the investigation, told reporters.

“The conclusions of the minister on the evening and the day after were not the right ones,” Lafon added. “It was a biased conclusion, imprecise.”

Many Liverpool supporters struggled to travel to the stadium because of a transport strike, then found themselves in bottlenecks and crushes at the stadium entry gates.

Faced with the build up of frustrated fans around the Stade de France, police fired tear gas to move the crowd back, affecting many children as well as disabled fans in wheelchairs.

After the game, visitors were preyed on by local gangs as they made their way to local transport connections, with many reporting pickpocketing, muggings and threats as the police looked on.

The televised events were a national embarrassment and are thought to have influenced parliamentary elections in June when President Emmanuel Macron lost his majority.

‘Failure’

Darmanin survived a government reshuffle in May and has since been given extra responsibility as interior minister despite his claims, which caused fury in Liverpool and tensions with the British government.

Liverpool football club is particularly sensitive to the scapegoating of its fans after they were falsely blamed for the Hillsborough stadium disaster in Sheffield in 1989.

“The role of a commission like ours is not to call for the resignation of someone in the government,” Buffet said when asked why the commission had not called for Darmanin to resign.

Instead, its final report made a series of recommendations to authorities to improve security arrangements at major sporting events. France is to host the Rugby World Cup next year and the Olympics in 2024.

Authorities have also been under pressure to explain why security camera footage from the stadium was not saved, removing a potentially vital source of information for investigators.

“The images will always be missing. That’s our biggest regret,” Buffet said.

Darmanin, a law and order hardliner, issued his first partial apology at the end of June, telling RTL radio: “Should things have been managed better at the Stade de France (stadium)? The answer is yes. Am I partly responsible? The answer is yes.”

The head of the Paris police, Didier Lallement, admitted during a Senate hearing on June 9 that security operations had been a “failure”.

But he defended the use of teargas to move fans back from the stadium, saying there was “no other way.”

The Senate report recommended that the police draw up clearer guidelines for the use of teargas and adopt other crowd-control methods such as greater use of mounted officers and water cannons.

France had to organise the Champions League final in record time after offering to host the game in February when it was stripped from Russia following Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. — AFP