When Paris stepped in to host the Champions League final, the biggest match in international football after the World Cup final, French authorities saw a chance to show that the nation was the perfect place to host world sporting events.
This weekend, those hopes appear dashed as French opinion polls show widespread disapproval of the ensuing chaos, amid growing criticism from politicians and police.
Unlike the UK, which witnessed fan violence during last year’s delayed Euro 2020, or autocratic states such as Russia and China, which hosted the World Cup and the most recent Winter Olympics, France was confident it would put on a proper – safe – spectacle. .
With the Rugby World Cup in France next year and the Paris Olympics in 2024, the Champions League final – which Paris offered to host after UEFA realized the Gazprom Arena in Saint -Petersburg was no longer a suitable place – would be the perfect kick-off. two years of French organizational excellence.
What they didn’t expect was a week of headlines about French police gassing children with tear gas and pepper spray.
Seven days later, French authorities are under increasing pressure to carry out a thorough investigation into what the national press has called a “fiasco”.
French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has doubled down on his insistence that Liverpool supporters brandishing up to 40,000 counterfeit banknotes were to blame, sparking criticism at home and abroad.
Early surveys suggest the number of counterfeit tickets scanned at the turnstiles was less than 3,000, while fans have pointed out that even that may be an exaggeration after many valid tickets were found the scanners weren’t accepting them.
A week before the first round of the legislative elections, the Élysée hoped that the quarrel would now be over. But an opinion poll by Odoxa-Backbone Consulting found that 76% of French people don’t believe Darmanin’s version of events at the Stade de France last weekend. Only 33% of those polled thought Liverpool fans were to blame for the chaos and 53% said they were concerned about the staging of the Rugby World Cup and Olympics.
If the French government had hoped that the accusations of police violence could be denied and then quashed, it seems to have been caught off guard by anger from abroad and at home.
Faced with video footage and statements from the dozens of football fans present, Darmanin, 39, who is to the right of Emmanuel Macron’s ruling centrist party, was forced to reconsider his positions. Questioned by the Senate, the upper house of Parliament, he admitted that “things could have been better organized… it is clear that this great sporting event was spoiled”.
Along with reports that Macron was furious at what happened, Darmanin also “very sincerely” apologized for what he called the “disproportionate use” of tear gas, which he said caused “serious problems, especially for children”.
Fabrice Arfi, of investigative site Mediapart, said it was a surprise it took pressure from Liverpool supporters and the British media for the minister to apologise.
“Darmanin has been unable to acknowledge any police violence in the past. So we got used to that in France. The French never got an apology from him,” Arfi said.
“Everyone outside of France is shocked to see how the French police behaved, but this is nothing new for us.” However, last week Darmanin was still insisting that up to 40,000 English football fans showed up for the match, either without tickets or with fake tickets, which he called “massive fraud, industrial and organized”.
The world described Darmanin’s mea culpa as “timid”, saying, “There has been no change basically”.
Libaeration posted a photo of Darmanin with a Pinocchio-like nose. In an editorial, the newspaper said the Home Secretary was sticking to a “police whitewashing fairy tale” and said his apology was weak and “bordering on arrogant”.
“France has missed an opportunity to prove that it still knows how to organize a world event without problems: it must now prove that it knows how to learn from its failures.”
The chaos was exacerbated by fan attacks by local thugs who assaulted Liverpool and Real Madrid supporters as police appeared unable to stop them.
Sebastian Roché, a French police expert from Sciences Po in Grenoble, suggested that, unlike British police, the French force does not operate by public consent.
“The French police are not supposed to talk to the public. They are not trained to send information upstream to their superiors to modify plans based on developments on the ground. They don’t know how to explain to the public what they are doing and why,” Roché said in The world.
The events at the Stade de France have cast an international spotlight on a dark corner of French policing: While foreigners are shocked, the French have grown accustomed to police using tear gas, pepper spray, water cannons and even “flash-ball” rubber balls for crowd control.
During the yellow vests (yellow vests), several people suffered catastrophic injuries, including the loss of eyes and hands. Even non-protesting bystanders were victimized: Zineb Redouane, 80, was closing the shutters of her Marseille apartment during a protest when she was hit by a tear gas canister traveling at around 60 mph in December 2020. A later report cleared the police of wrongdoing.
In 2018, at the height of the yellow vests protests, Reporters Without Borders and the National Union of Journalists complained that police targeted journalists during protests when they were easily identifiable as members of the press.
Subsequently, Jacques de Maillard, a researcher specializing in police issues and director of the Center for Sociological Research on Law and Penal Institutions, told France 24 that there were “structural problems in terms of recruitment, training , philosophy and management” of the police. Obligate.
Arfi said French politicians have a problem with police brutality. “Policing in France is very political. The knee-jerk reaction of politicians in France is not to respond but to deny and this denial creates a sense of impunity,” he said.
“Darmanin and Macron are simply unable to recognize or accept that there is police violence. What will become of it now that people outside France have seen it, who knows.