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Champions League final chaos: French minister defends police response

Gérald Darmanin apologised for the ‘disproportionate’ use of teargas, but continues to place blame on an ‘industrial scale’ ticket fraud

Gérald Darmanin has admitted that the French authorities could have done “better” with regards to the Champions League final on Saturday (May 28), but maintains that an “industrial-scale” ticket fraud was largely to blame for the disruption Pic: Frederic Legrand - COMEO / Shutterstock

France’s interior minister has maintained claims that the disruption outside the Stade de France during the Champions League final on Saturday (May 28) was largely caused by an “industrial scale fraud” with regards to fake tickets, although he has conceded that “things could have been better organised”. 

Gérald Darmanin was called, along with Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, to establish “complete transparency” on the incident before the French Senate’s Commission des lois yesterday (June 1), on the request of President Emmanuel Macron.

“The president quickly understood that this was important and gave orders for it to be taken seriously, and for the responsibilities [of all parties] to be established so that it does not happen again,” an Elysée spokesperson told Le Monde

Read more: France promises ‘in depth’ inquiry into Champions League final chaos

On the night in question, kick-off of the match between Liverpool and Real Madrid was delayed by 36 minutes and screens inside the Stade de France blamed this on “the late arrival” of fans. 

However, many Liverpool fans have said that they arrived with hours to go before the final began, and found themselves waiting in queues punctuated by narrow bottlenecks for up to two hours. 

Police officers at the scene began to fire teargas and pepper spray at some Liverpool supporters, and this heavy-handed approach has been widely criticised in the UK and in France. 

Some fans with valid tickets did not manage to get inside the stadium until a few minutes before halftime and 2,700 Liverpool supporters with valid tickets did not gain entry at all.

Other people – who showed no sign of being Liverpool supporters, according to eyewitnesses – climbed over the fences outside the stadium and ran inside.

On Monday (May 30), Mr Darmanin blamed the chaos on “a massive, industrial scale and organised act of fraud,” suggesting that Liverpool fans were at least partly responsible for the disorder. 

This attitude has been met with fierce opposition, with some calling for the minister’s resignation.

Yesterday (June 1), Mr Darmanin conceded that: “It is obvious that things could have been better organised. It is obvious that this sporting celebration was ruined,” adding that “the negative image of this match hurts our national pride.

He also stated that: “We very sincerely regret the at times unacceptable eruptions which took place,” as well as the “disproportionate” use of teargas, which “caused great harm, especially to children”.

Mr Darmanin has reportedly called for two officers who broke rules on teargas deployment to be punished. 

He also stated that any British or Spanish supporters who feel that they were victims of inappropriate police behaviour on Saturday can make a statement in their own countries from Monday (June 6), when French police would be sent over to assist with any investigations.

However, Mr Darmanin remained intransigent with regards to his insistence on the efficacy of the policing system put in place, claiming that the use of teargas had “saved lives”. 

He also stated that only British fans – and not Spanish supporters – caused problems, and maintained his previous statements with regards to the “huge” act of fraud relating to the fake tickets which caused bottlenecks at ticket checkpoints because they would not scan. 

Mr Darmanin said that “30-40,000 British supporters were without tickets or had fake tickets,” with one real ticket having been reproduced “744 times”.

However, this claim is contested. New figures show that only 2,800 people attempted to scan fake tickets at the stadium entrances. 

UEFA figures also state that there were “only” several thousand British fans without a ticket or using a fake ticket, with officials attributing greater blame to the organisation of the event.

Read more: French industry expert: UK’s printed sport ticket tradition aids fraud

Over in Liverpool, Mr Darmanin’s account did not convince football fans, with one saying: “He is giving the impression that he is trying to make us forget his own lies. But we are not accepting his apology. In any case, it doesn’t really seem like a true apology.”

Sports Minister Ms Oudéa-Castéra adopted a more conciliatory tone than her colleague Mr Darmanin. She acknowledged that “management of the flow [of people] exiting public transports,” should have been improved, as well as “mechanisms aimed at tackling delinquency”.

Emerging from yesterday’s Conseil des ministres Cabinet meeting, government spokesperson Olivia Grégoire also said that “we could definitely have done better,” and added that she was “sorry” for the Liverpool fans affected by the incident.

However, she added that France remains “a great country capable of welcoming huge, international sporting events,” stressing that there were no serious injuries during Saturday’s match.

Six men appear in court over thefts and attacks 

On Saturday night, it is thought that 300-400 youths from the Seine-Denis area – where the Stade de France is situated – entered the stadium illegally, some by climbing over fences, and carried out various pickpocketing offences and attacks. 

Girls and women were groped and cars parked around the stadium were also ransacked, with the rampage continuing until 03:00. 

“We did not think that such a surge [of criminality] was possible at a celebratory event like this, especially as things went quite smoothly in the fan zones located around Paris,” a police officer told Le Monde.

On Tuesday (May 31), six men aged between 21 and 39 were brought before the courts for having stolen telephones, a watch and a necklace outside the stadium during the Champions League final. 

The six had initially been among 48 people to be held in custody after being arrested on suspicion of similar crimes. However, 42 of them were eventually released without charge.

One of the people tried for theft, Oussama K., had tried three times to enter the stadium without a ticket, before giving up and heading for the nearby Ligne 13 métro station. There, he pickpocketed a British fan, and was arrested a few seconds later, having thrown the person’s telephone to the ground. 

Oussama K. is undocumented and lives between a tent under a bridge and a subletted room, when his UberEats deliveries allow him to earn some money. 

He arrived in France a little over a year ago in the hope of finding a job and supporting his family in Algeria, but said to the judge: “Give me any sentence apart from prison,” promising to “leave France”. This he will now be obliged to do. 

Concerns about the Olympic Games 

Following the chaotic scenes outside the Stade de France on Saturday night, fears have been raised over the French authorities’ ability to effectively organise and police sporting events on a large scale. 

Tomorrow (Friday, June 3), 75,000 football fans will arrive at the Stade de France to watch France play Denmark in the Nations League. 

France will also play New Zealand in this stadium as part of the Rugby World Cup, which is being hosted by the country in 2023. In the following year, the venue and other locations around Paris will host various Olympic events. 

“We must learn everything we can” from the Champions League final, said Tony Estanguet, president of the Olympic Games organising committee. “We have a system which is adapted to the Games. Security has been at the heart of our priorities for several years,” he added. 

Mr Darmanin has charged Michel Cadot, interministerial delegate for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, to develop “different” crowd dispersal strategies for these events.

The Fédération française de football has not commented, other than to state that the 1,650 security guards and ticket staff it had on hand on Saturday night was “25% more than during a sold-out match involving a French team.”

It said that 110,000 people turned up when only 75,000 tickets had been sold, and that the “extra 35,000 people, in possession of fake tickets or without tickets, provoked issues with public disorder.”

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