As the football season draws to a close, pundits and fans assess how the season has gone and predict what will happen next seasonTo all this one could add a serious and unbiased reflection on what happened in this year’s Champions League final, which took place in Paris at the end of May. A serious reflection because the obvious lack of coordination and the controversial use of force by the French police could have triggered a tragedy, whether it was the death of a fan by gas poisoning or a terrorist attack . The possibility of a terrorist attack is not alarmist considering that it was near the same stadium where the Champions League final was played that three suicide bombers blew themselves up during the Paris attacks in November 2015. Finally, the discussion must be done without prejudice, and not as we have seen in the press, which attributes what happened to the fact that the Stade France is located in Saint Denis, a famous Parisian suburb which has the sad reputation of being one of the poorest and most precarious in France. By the same logic, we could argue that the stadiums of teams such as Hamburg’s FC Saint Pauli and Madrid’s Rayo Vallecano – located in low-income neighborhoods – are not safe by the same standards as those in apply to Saint-Denis.
Examining the failures that occurred in the final will help us see what can be improved for future sporting events of the same level, especially considering that later this year the FIFA World Cup will take place in Qatar, and that France will host the Rugby World Cup next year and the Olympics in 2024. These three events are sure to attract the attention of terrorist groups, aware of the repercussions of their actions during these events..
It’s understandable that the Champions League final fell to France all at once, since it was originally scheduled to be held in St. Petersburg, Russia. Three months complicates the security plans of the French police force, especially since France is in an election year, with the consequent expenditure of personnel and resources outside the sporting event. However, it could also be argued that a country as security-conscious as France could have understood that the Champions League final is a global event that must go off without a hitch, by preparing a security structure for this purpose which would guarantee the well-being of the supporters of both teams, check the veracity of the tickets sold and use the minimum of force, except in extreme cases. This was not the case: the supporters of the two teams were victims of both the rudeness of the police and the pickpockets, who took the opportunity to rob the supporters, and finally the checks aimed at ensuring that tickets sold to England supporters were genuine failed. All of this has not only damaged the fans of both teams, but also – and perhaps worse – France’s reputation as a country capable of hosting major sporting events with reliability. The excessive use of force by the French police, the chaos in the entrance of the English supporters and the feeling of insecurity which surrounds the supporters raise serious doubts as to the capacity of France to host the 2023 and 2024 events, both of which are major events attended by large crowds.
The terrorist threat, although less virulent in Europe than in 2015-2017, is still present and could have appeared during the reception of the final. While the Islamic State is no longer the threat it was in the middle of the last decade, it is still present, especially on social media. The individuals radicalized by his propaganda could very probably have taken advantage of the chaos of the final to commit an attack, either by disguising themselves as supporters of the teams present, or as pickpockets. If an attack had taken place, the match would most certainly have been cancelled, not to mention the feeling of chaos and panic that would have gripped the supporters, which could have given rise to jostling with tragic consequences. Fortunately, there were no attacks, but the possibility of committing one reminds us that the threat is always present.
There have also been failures in the coordination of information and security between countries and agencies. The UK should have informed France and UEFA if it knew that Liverpool fans had bought fake tickets, which would have given it time to prevent many fans from obstructing the entrance to the stadium. The fact that this has not been done reveals the poor relations between France and Britain following Brexit, but that is no excuse for preventing cooperation on this issue, where the safety of your citizens in a foreign country is in danger, a duty that every country should accept. The chaos in which England fans have been left and the use of force by the French police reveal shortcomings in the coordination between UEFA and the Welsh authorities to demarcate the areas falling under the exclusive jurisdiction of UEFA and those of French police, as well as a common protocol on when to use force. This last point is relevant because, although there is a lot of tension as a police officer during an event as explosive as a football final, the force with which the French police behaved is not justifiable.. Excessive use of force is a symptom of their weak ability to handle high-tension situations, raising doubts about their ability to handle events of this level or higher with international bodies.
In conclusion, the Champions League final in Paris last month revealed flaws in the organization of the security apparatus which could very likely have been exploited to carry out a terrorist attack. Although France had three months to prepare for a final which was originally not to be held on its territory, a police deployment plan for such an event could have been put in place to ensure the well- be supporters, verify the authenticity of tickets and ensure minimal use of force. This did not happen, leaving serious doubts about France’s ability to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup and the 2024 Olympics. These shortcomings could have been exploited by the Islamic State to commit a attack, because, even if he is no longer the monster he once was, he still represents a threat to the West. Finally, the lack of coordination of information and cooperation between agenciesdue to both poor bilateral relations and a lack of foresight, contributed to the chaos, casting doubt on France’s ability to stage similar events in the future..