France’s interior minister on Monday blamed massive ticket fraud for the chaotic scenes that marred the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid over the weekend, raising questions over the ability of Paris to host the 2024 Olympics and other sporting events. UEFA has announced an independent investigation into the incident.
The French government has faced a barrage of criticism from press and politicians both domestically and abroad over police handling of the match on Saturday, which saw thousands of Liverpool fans with tickets struggling to enter the stadium in scenes that eventually turned violent.
The final between Liverpool and Real Madrid on Saturday was postponed by more than 30 minutes as police used teargas to try to prevent people who did not have tickets from entering the stadium just north of Paris. Some ticket holders complained that they had only been allowed to enter the stadium for the second half of the match, which Real Madrid won 1-0.
After a crisis meeting at the sports ministry on Monday, French Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin defiantly insisted that ticket scams and the bad behaviour of Liverpool fans were 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.
Darmanin said that while French authorities had taken steps to prepare for the risk of English hooliganism, they were caught off-guard by local delinquents who also turned up to cause trouble at the match.
He went on the defend the actions of police, calling it “low and disproportionate” to criticise the officers’ actions, adding: “The decisions that were taken prevented deaths.”
He did, however, acknowledge the “inappropriate” use of teargas after images posted on social media showed even children being targeted at close range.
French sports minister commissions report
Sports Minister Amelie Oudéa-Castéra said French authorities were “extremely sorry” for the approximately 2,700 fans with tickets who were unable to enter the Stade de France because of the crowd control problems and suggested they receive compensation.
Oudéa-Castéra told RTL radio that Liverpool, in contrast to Real Madrid, had failed to organise the supporters who came to Paris. “Liverpool let its supporters on the loose, this is a major difference,” she said.
She added that there had been 30,000 to 40,000 Liverpool fans with either fake tickets or no tickets outside the Stade de France stadium.
Part of the problem was also Liverpool’s request for paper tickets for its fans, rather than electronic ones, Darmanin and Oudéa-Castéra both said.
Oudea-Castera has commissioned a report into Saturday’s events. The French sports minister on Monday said she has asked Michael Cadot, the inter-ministerial delegate for large sports events, to produce the report within 10 days.
The announcement came hours after British authorities called for an investigation.
“We are urging UEFA to work closely with the French authorities on a full investigation and to publish those findings,” said a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
“The footage from the Stade de France this weekend was deeply upsetting and concerning. We know many Liverpool fans travelled to Paris in good time … and we’re hugely disappointed by how they were treated,” the spokesman said.
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 Hillsborough disaster cost the lives of 97 people in a stadium crush.
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”.
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”.
Doubts about readiness of French hosts
The 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.
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.
Monday’s meeting at the sports ministry involved European football’s governing body UEFA, French football chiefs and the French police. Darmanin and Paris police chief Didier Lallement were both in attendance, along with the Sports Minister Oudéa-Castéra.
Lallement has called for a formal investigation into the production of fake tickets. Later on Monday, UEFA announced an independent investigation into the incident.
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.
Liverpool Football Club has requested a formal investigation.
But Oudéa-Castéra 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 was awarded the Champions League final three months ago, after Saint Petersburg was stripped of the event because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
In another instance of football trouble in France, angry Saint-Étienne fans invaded the pitch after were they were relegated from Ligue 1 on Sunday in their play-off against Auxerre, with French police again using teargas.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)