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Olympics host Paris under fire after Champions League ‘fiasco’

PARIS, FRANCE - MAY 28: Liverpool supporters look through the closed gates of the Stade de France, some feeling the effects of tear gas before the UEFA Champions League final match between Liverpool FC and Real Madrid at Stade de France on May 28, 2022 in Paris, France. (Photo by Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

French authorities faced questions Sunday over police tactics at the Paris Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid that descended into scenes of chaos before kick-off, with critics asking if the capital was ready to host the 2024 Olympics.

Liverpool called for an investigation into the treatment of their supporters ahead of the game at Paris’ Stade de France on Saturday which the club said left thousands of ticket holders struggling to enter the stadium.

European football’s governing body UEFA blamed a problem with fake tickets. But the French government called a meeting Monday to learn “lessons” and prevent a repeat at future major sporting events.

The chaos outside France’s national stadium prompted the kick-off to be delayed by over half an hour. Real Madrid eventually won the final 1-0.

The scenes – which saw some fans manage to scale fences to get into the stadium and police use tear gas – were not what the French capital wanted two years before it hosts the Olympics and one year before the same venue hosts the rugby World Cup final.

France’s Sports Minister Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera expressed regret that “some supporters who had tickets were not able to access the match” and called a meeting Monday involving UEFA and the French police.

“The priority now is to identify very precisely what went wrong… in order to learn all the lessons so that such incidents do not happen again at our future major international sporting events,” she said.

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.

UEFA blamed “fake tickets which did not work in the turnstiles” for the 35-minute delay to the final.

But Liverpool said they were “hugely disappointed” that their supporters had been subjected to an “unacceptable” breakdown of the security perimeter.

“We have officially requested a formal investigation into the causes of these unacceptable issues,” the club said.

Merseyside Police, which had officers deployed in Paris, said “the vast majority of fans behaved in an exemplary manner”.

– ‘Complete failure’ –

Britain’s Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries urged UEFA to launch “a formal investigation into what went wrong and why”.

But French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin had pointed the finger at Liverpool fans, saying “thousands of British ‘supporters’ either without tickets or with fake ones forced their way through and sometimes behaved violently towards the stewards”.

Yet political foes of the government and President Emmanuel Macron said that the scenes pointed to wider problems in France and shamed the country.

“The image this gives is lamentable and it is also worrying because we see that we are not prepared for events like the Olympic Games,” far-left French politician Jean-Luc Melenchon told BFM-TV.

He denounced “a complete failure of the police strategy… the people were treated as they usually are during any kind of demonstration. We can’t continue like this.”

Far-right leader Marine Le Pen told RTL that the world had seen that “France is no longer able to organise major events without things degenerating.”

“From party to fiasco,” said leading sports daily L’Equipe.

The Liverpool Echo newspaper argued that poor organisation and not the Liverpool fans were to blame.

“UEFA’s shameless attempts to control (the) Liverpool narrative show they’ll never learn after Champions League disgrace,” it said.

Aurore Berge, a deputy for Macron’s ruling party, said Paris had “barely three months” to get ready for the final which it was awarded after Saint Petersburg was stripped of the event due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

– ‘Absolute disgrace’ –

Police fired tear gas after several dozen people attempted to climb over barriers, according to an AFP reporter on the scene, with security staff having to round up about 20 fans who succeeded in scaling the fence and getting into the ground.

Thousands of Liverpool supporters were still massed outside the stadium with half an hour to go to kick-off, inevitably bringing back memories for a club haunted by the 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster where 97 people were killed in a crush.

One fan, Paul Machin, said in a YouTube video that what he witnessed in Paris was “unlike anything I’ve seen at a football match before”, condemning “totally and utterly reprehensible behaviour from the French police who were an absolute disgrace”.

In contrast to the scenes outside the stadium, Paris police noted that proceedings at two vast fans zones hosting tens of thousands of supporters from both sides had taken place in a good atmosphere and without major incident.

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