Fans do a Wembley at UEFA spectacle



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Organizers of Champions League Final did not learn from Wembley Image: Oliver Pfeiffer (LinkedIn)

As France faces flak for the chaotic mismanagement of the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) Champions League final, the country’s Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera told newsmen on May 30th that a massive ticket fraud and unruly Premier League club Liverpool F.C. (UK) fans were to blame for the fiasco outside the Stade de France in Paris, France.

The ‘AA’ quoted Oudea-Castera as stating, “There were between 30,000 to 40,000 people with fake tickets or without tickets which caused an exceptional pressure on the security forces who had the worst difficulty controlling the flows.”

The 2022 UEFA Champions League Final was the final match of the 2021-2022 UEFA Champions League, the 67th season of Europe’s premier club football tournament organized by UEFA, and the 30th season since it was renamed from the European Champion Clubs’ Cup to the UEFA Champions League. It was played at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, France, on May 28th, 2022, between the Premier League club Liverpool F.C. and the Spanish professional football club Real Madrid CF (Spain). Real Madrid won the match 1-0 via a 59th-minute goal from Vinícius Júnior for a record-extending 14th title, and their 5th in nine years.

This was the first final to be played in front of a full attendance since the 2019 final, as the previous two finals were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Stade de France is the national stadium of France, located just north of Paris in the commune of Saint-Denis. Its seating capacity of 80,698 makes it the seventh-largest stadium in Europe. The stadium is used by the France national football team and the France rugby union team for international competition.

The ‘AA’ stated that the chaotic scenes outside the stadium, with supporters breaking through security cordons, jumping over large metal gates and police firing tear gas, caused a 35-minute delay in the start of the Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid.

The closure of the main train line to Seine-Saint-Denis, where the stadium is located, due to a workers’ strike was also another factor that exacerbated problems for fans.

Oudea-Castera, however, defended France’s record at organizing major sporting events, reiterating that the main issue was fake tickets -“Because the tickets were fake, the metal gates remained blocked, leading to security issues and congestion which created an extraordinarily frustrating wait for people.”

She pointed out that Liverpool requested UEFA to issue paper tickets, instead of e-tickets on mobile apps that were “tamper-proof, non-transferable tickets”.

Squarely blaming disorderly British supporters of Liverpool for the commotion, she said there were “no problems” with the Real Madrid fans – “The fact that Real had so supervised the movement of its supporters to Paris by providing buses from the airport, to organize everything from one point to another – which contrasts radically with Liverpool which left its supporters in the wild – created a major difference.”

The Interior Ministry and Paris Police, responsible for security and managing crowds at the weekend fixture, have also linked the debacle to fake tickets sold to Liverpool supporters.

Paris Police Chief Didier Lallement said there were “Probably between 30,000 and 40,000 people who showed up at the stadium beyond the 80,000 eligible.”

Lallement has appealed to a Paris court to open an investigation to identify those responsible for the massive counterfeit fraud.

To determine the reasons for the organizational failure, Oudea-Castera and Interior Minister Gerald Darmamin will hold a meeting on with representatives of the French Football Federation and UEFA.

British authorities and Liverpool, however, are not convinced by the explanation of fake tickets sold to English supporters.

Rodolfo Amaya, President of Liverpool’s official supporters club in France, refuted Oudea-Castera’s claims – “Liverpool supporters are used to traveling without a ticket, but 30,000 to 40,000 people with fake tickets creating a ruckus in front of the Stade de France is not possible.”

Nadine Dorries, UK Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, has joined Liverpool in demanding an inquiry into the troubling events that marred the May 28th final, which Real Madrid won 1-0 to clinch a record 14th Champions League title.
 

Lesson not learnt from Wembley

Several people commented on the professional platform LinkedIn that organizers of the Champions League Final did not learn from Wembley.

It may be recalled that groups of England fans without tickets forced their way through the Wembley turnstiles before England’s Euro 2020 final against Italy in July 2021 which Italy defeated England on penalties. Italy was crowned the European champions after shootout win over England.

Commented Ian Hardcastle, Lead Manager, Health and Safety Operations, Expo 2020, Dubai, in a LinkedIn post, “UEFA are currently ‘spinning’ a blame game on the fans, claiming that many had fake tickets but didn’t know and this is the reason for the bottleneck at the stadium. Absolute rubbish! Earlier in the day at the Fanzone, the same strategy by the police of drip feeding the entry point was adopted. The entry point was hopelessly disorganized, we had to plead with the police to get access for our disabled friend, and the entry point was blocked by police vans, large bins and even the Uber/Careem bike racks.”

Added Hardcastle, “Whoever thought this approach was fit for purpose was (in my professional opinion) uneducated, inexperienced and unqualified in understanding the risks associated with crowds. Again, in my opinion, one of the contributing factors why this risk and the one at the Stade de France did not develop was the awareness and experience of the LFC crowd who knew only too well the consequences of the situation!”

Wrote Paul Astley of Adidas Global Protection in a LinkedIn post, “Shocking…I was in and around the venue with our guests, and even the fundamentals of ingress and egress control were not followed. Poor barrier design, uninformed staff and the ‘UEFA plan’ (yes there was a plan [on paper at least!]) not implemented. Istanbul next year needs to be sorted!”

Observed Oliver Pfeiffer, Head of Partnership Management at Rangers Football Club, Liverpool, England, United Kingdom, in a LinkedIn post, “I was unfortunately caught up in the chaos last night (May 8th) at the SDF before the UCL final. By far and away the worst experience I’ve had at any live sporting event – having been following LFC home and away for 20+ years. Zero organization, crowd control, queue management, crowd management, filtering systems or communication by UEFA and the French police/local authorities. Arrived at the stadium at 6.40 pm. Didn’t get in until HT, for a game in which the KO had been delayed due to the issues outside. Was also teargassed whilst in the Q several times for no apparent reason – as were a lot of elderly fans, women and children who were not causing any problems.”

Added Pfeiffer, “These issues were not caused by fans arriving late or being ticketless. It was a complete breakdown of the stadium management/operation and safety plan. Say whatever you like about the result/match – irrelevant given how unsafe, dangerous and chaotic it was before and after the game.”

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