French ministers face grilling over Champions League final chaos – POLITICO

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PARIS – The French interior and sports ministers will be questioned in the Senate on Wednesday about what happened at the Stade de France on Saturday, during the Champions League final. marred by chaotic scenes, with fans stuck in large queues outside the stadium and police using tear gas on supporters.

Under pressure to defend France’s policing methods, Home Secretary Gerald Darmanin blamed “industry-scale” ticket fraud and disorganized Liverpool fans for the problems. The government says there were 30,000 to 40,000 UK fans without tickets or with fake tickets, which created bottlenecks, and that police used tear gas to clear the space and prevent a deadly crowd. Darmanin was broadly supportive of the police’s handling of the situation, although he admitted in a TV interview that some of them had not been “proportionate”.

But his line of defense has come under fire from opposition figures, who have accused him of making up numbers and taking a coy approach to fans who say they have been roughed up by police.

On Wednesday, Darmanin and the new Minister of Sports Amélie Oudéa-Castéra will have to answer questions from senators about what happened on Saturday evening.

“The events near the Stade de France (…) have given France a bad image on the international scene and have raised serious concerns about its ability to organize international competitions with a high level of security,” wrote the senators leading the hearing in a statement.

With France hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2023 and the Olympics in 2024, the government is under pressure to show it can address criticism over Saturday’s Liverpool-Real Madrid match. Emmanuel Macron has been embroiled in what has been described as a “fiasco”, with the president heavily involved in talks to play the game in France after moving from his original location in Russia.

Under fire from the opposition

With the legislative elections in June, the opposition smells of blood and lashed out at the government over the situation.

Television footage showed police gassing families queuing to enter the stadium, distraught fans waving their tickets as they tried to enter and young locals, who did not appear to be football fans, climbing the fences to enter the stadium.

Far-right lawmaker Eric Ciotti accused Darmanin of lying about police shortcomings and said the idea that there were as many as 40,000 UK fans without tickets or with fake tickets was “completely false and misleading”.

“The reality is that there were probably a few counterfeits, but not that many. And the reality that no one talks about is that there were bombings and robberies perpetrated by locals,” he said. he told France 2 TV channel on Tuesday. The decision to remove some of the barriers to reduce bottlenecks around the stadium has allowed muggers and pickpockets to target fans queuing to enter, did he declare.

Far-right MEP Jordan Bardella also attacked Darmanin and accused him of being a “pathological liar” who risked “a diplomatic incident with the UK” on French radio. Darmanin and Oudéa-Castéra had tried to shift some of the blame onto the British supporters, accusing them of being disorganized and arriving late.

On Monday, Liverpool Football Club chairman Tom Werner hit back angrily in a letter to France’s sports minister, accusing his government of pursuing a “blame strategy” and demanding an apology for the “comments [that] were irresponsible, unprofessional and completely disrespectful to the thousands of physically and emotionally hurt fans.

The Macron government also faced attacks from the newly united left in France. Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon said France’s image was “miserable” and Saturday’s events proved the country was “not ready” to host events such as the Olympics.

“It’s a complete failure of our police strategy… It would take a complete overhaul of the French police to make it effective,” he said on BFMTV.

The match reignited a debate over police brutality that erupted during the Yellow Jackets protests in 2018 and 2019. At the time, videos of alleged police brutality went viral as officers claimed they faced increased violence from protesters.

Devil in the details

When the decision was made in February to move the Champions League final from St Petersburg following the war in Ukraine, France rallied to host the event and Macron himself was strongly involved in the talks, according to several officials.

Ministers will face questions on several fronts on Wednesday – about police tactics, about their response to a train strike in Paris, and also about why the problems had not been anticipated.

On Tuesday, it emerged French security services had warned authorities last week that up to 50,000 British fans without tickets or with fake tickets were expected in Paris.

A key question is whether ministers will stick to the numbers they have used over the past two days. Reporters and eyewitnesses poked holes in ministers’ claims that there were as many as 40,000 fans without tickets or with fake tickets. Some pointed out that there were not tens of thousands of people stranded outside the stadium after kick-off, others said legitimate tickets were being rejected by scanners.

Questions have been raised about how this figure was calculated – whether it is based on ticket checks or simply an estimate based on rail transport figures. According to radio station RMC Sport, 2,800 counterfeit tickets were scanned at the stadium’s final checkpoint, leading to an estimate of tens of thousands of counterfeit tickets during previous checks.