PARIS (Reuters) – The French government hosted an emergency meeting on Monday after crowd trouble marred last weekend’s Champions League soccer final, which France’s sports minister said was initially caused by Liverpool fans turning up without valid tickets.
“We need to take all the necessary steps to make sure this never happens again”, said French sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera, at the start of the meeting.
The crowd trouble at the match in Paris has become a political issue ahead of French parliamentary elections in mid-June, and with France due to host the 2023 Rugby World Cup and the 2024 Olympics.
“The images are lamentable, they are disturbing because we can clearly see that we are not prepared for events such as the Olympic Games”, said far-left leader Jean-Luc Melenchon on Sunday, while his far-right rival Marine Le Pen called the incident a “humiliation” for France.
Far-right politician Eric Zemmour had also said the trouble was caused principally by local youths from the nearby Paris Seine Saint Denis district, rather than Liverpool fans.
Oudea-Castera said Liverpool fans without valid tickets were responsible for the initial crowd problems at the Champions League final, with the problem then exacerbated by local youths trying to force their way in to the game.
“What we really have to bear in mind is that what happened first of all was this mass gathering of British supporters of the Liverpool club, without tickets, or with fake tickets,” Oudea-Castera told RTL radio on Monday.
“When there are that many people by the entrance to the stadium, there will be people trying to force their way in through the doors of the Stade de France, and a certain number of youths from the nearby area who were present tried to get in by mixing in with the crowd,” she told French radio RTL.
The match had to be delayed by 35 minutes after police tried to hold back people attempting to force their way into the national stadium without tickets, while some ticket holders complained that they were not let in.
Television footage showed images of young men who did not appear to be wearing red Liverpool jerseys jumping the gates of the stadium and running away from security to get into the match. Others outside, including children, were tear-gassed by riot police, said a Reuters witness.
Chris Philp, Britain’s minister for technology, said he was shocked by the images.
“I was horrified to see those pictures of fans including children, disabled fans, being pepper-sprayed by French police,” he added. “And from the pictures I saw there was no obvious justification for that kind of behaviour.”
Liverpool Chief Executive Billy Hogan said the club wanted a “transparent investigation” by governing body UEFA. Britain’s minister for sport, Nadine Dorries, also urged UEFA to investigate.
Oudea-Castera said there were no problems with Real Madrid supporters at Saturday’s match and that the Spanish side had managed to control their travelling fans better than Liverpool.
She added that France nevertheless had to examine stepping up security at high-risk soccer matches, with further trouble having broken out on Sunday after St Etienne were relegated from France’s Ligue 1.
(Reporting by Sudip Kar-Gupta; Additional reporting by Farouq Suleiman; writing by Tassilo Hummel;Editing by Peter Rutherford and Edmund Blair and Christian Radnedge)