Liverpool fan Mathilde Delamotte was surprised when cops in riot gear began spraying tear fuel on the crowd outdoors the Champions League remaining in Paris final Saturday. After all, it was French police who had funnelled supporters via slim entry factors from the prepare station to the stadium, solely to finish up at a single entrance.
“We were stuck there and they attacked us,” mentioned the 30-year-old Paris resident. She had by no means seen such disorganisation in dozens of soccer matches attended within the UK and Europe, she added.
The techniques of the French police have come below hearth from Liverpool followers in addition to safety consultants and opposition politicians who’re sceptical concerning the authorities’s explanations, together with the claims of the “industrial-scale” use of pretend tickets, of what went incorrect.
Despite the deployment of 6,800 cops, overcrowding constructed up outdoors the gates. Thieves focused followers, stealing telephones, watches and different objects. Police used tear fuel in what they mentioned was an effort to regain management. Uefa, European soccer’s governing physique, on Friday issued a “sincere apology” to followers caught up within the “distressing events”.
Critics say the scenes confirmed the constraints of French policing tradition — constructed on repression and using pressure however much less suited to the lighter-touch, communication-oriented method that lecturers say is a more practical means of managing huge sports activities occasions.
“This was not a one-time thing,” mentioned Sebastien Roché, a sociologist who specialises in police practices, of the incidents that marred the ultimate. “It was emblematic of how the French police’s priority is maintaining public order, not keeping people safe or even preventing crimes.”
With France gearing as much as host thousands and thousands of sports activities followers for the Rugby World Cup in October subsequent yr and the Olympic Games in July 2024, the talk over whether or not the police shall be ready has now intensified.
Criticism of the police has turn out to be extra frequent in France in recent times after high-profile incidents such because the beating of an unarmed black music producer in Paris and the unintentional demise of a person attributable to police in Nantes who have been making an attempt to interrupt up an out of doors rave.
But it was the police clampdown on the gilets jaunes protests, which started in 2018, that proved a turning level and prompted public criticism from organisations together with Amnesty International, the UN and the Council of Europe. To include these typically violent demonstrations police used military-style weapons and steadily deployed tear fuel. Some 2,500 protesters have been injured, in addition to 1,800 officers.
Didier Lallement, a tough-talking police chief, was recruited to Paris in 2019 after having made his title cracking down on gilets jaunes in Bordeaux. He informed police unions upon arrival: “You know my reputation, I’m even worse.”
Lallement oversaw safety on the Champions League match, and far-left chief Jean-Luc Mélenchon has known as on him to give up. “That Lallement is still in his post means that his command style is politically approved by Macron’s government,” mentioned Roché.
Interior minister Gérald Darmanin, who oversees the nationwide police, rejected criticism that officers’ actions on the match have been disproportionate. He argued there would have been deaths and extra accidents had they not acted to interrupt up the crowds.
Policing the world across the stadium has its personal challenges. The Stade de France is in Saint-Denis, a poor neighbourhood on the northern fringe of Paris with a excessive crime price.
Stéphane Troussel, an elected official who heads the departmental council in Seine-Saint-Denis, mentioned higher preparation can be wanted earlier than different occasions to take care of order and stop followers from being focused by criminals. “We have held two successful Champions League finals here and many big concerts, and this is the first time we’ve had such a fiasco,” he mentioned.
Both France’s authorities and Uefa have commissioned investigations into occasions earlier than the match, which Real Madrid received 1-0. The Spanish membership on Friday demanded explanations why a few of their followers have been additionally mistreated, and Liverpool has made an analogous name.
“I’m not ready to blame the police tactics until we know more,” mentioned Laurent Lafon, a senator from the centre-right Les Républicains who heads a parliamentary oversight committee for sports activities. “But the dysfunctions were serious and all the lessons must be learned.”
On Wednesday, Lafon and different senators grilled sports activities minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra and Darmanin, who acknowledged that some cops had used tear fuel indiscriminately opposite to insurance policies. In one video broadly shared on social media, an officer sprayed a supporter as he scanned his ticket at a turnstile.
But Darmanin mentioned tear fuel was the one software the police needed to disperse a crowd urgent dangerously in opposition to the stadium gates.
Ronan Evain, who heads a fan group known as Football Supporters Europe and attended the match as a Uefa observer, mentioned the state of affairs mustn’t have reached that time. “The French police are simply out of practice in dealing with such big football games,” he mentioned.
Authorities steadily restrict or ban followers from travelling to away video games on safety grounds, so police have misplaced abilities in managing crowds and interacting with followers, Evain added. Unlike in Britain, French police had an inclination to see soccer followers as inherently threatening, he mentioned.
Roché mentioned French police have been cautious of “de-escalation” strategies used at sporting occasions elsewhere in Europe as a result of they see them as ineffective. They eschew techniques used broadly within the UK and the Netherlands, he added, similar to having educated communications officers deployed round stadiums to assist followers or reply questions.
“The [French] model is to dissuade and awe the public, and success is judged by how many arrests were made — not whether people had a good time,” he mentioned.
Outside the stadium final Saturday, Delamotte tried to ask the police for a proof however mentioned she was ignored. “The British police do not treat us like hooligans at every match. I just don’t understand why this happened.”