The Champions League, the most prestigious organization of the UEFA, the highest authority of European football, is the most famous organization of the institution, known for its timely calendar. The organization announces the match hours and days long before the match time, and all national partner institutions follow the calendar minute-by-minute. However, the latest Champions League final match played in Paris on May 28, 2022, started approximately 40 minutes late.
After the chaotic events, French police used tear gas to prevent people without tickets or those who had fake tickets from entering the stadium and arrested more than 100 people and took dozens of them into custody during the final match between Liverpool and Real Madrid. Some ticket holders were only allowed to enter the stadium for the second half of the match.
The chaotic events at the Stade de France, which can hold 80,000 people, were considered a national embarrassment and disgrace for France, including most French politicians. Many French politicians and media outlets went further and raised questions about France’s ability to organize large-scale events such as this. For instance, Nathalie Loiseau, a lawmaker in French President Emanuel Macron’s party, claimed that the events have shown that France is not ready for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. The British media severely criticized the French authorities for the events. A British newspaper, The Sun, even relabeled the stadium, named the Stade de France, as “Stade de Farce.”
On the one hand, British authorities and the press harshly criticized the French police, who sprayed pepper gas on British fans and even on British football player Joel Matip and his family. Kenny Dalglish, one of Liverpool’s legends, said French authorities should be ashamed of the disproportionate response of the police. Liverpool authorities, who were disappointed due to the unacceptable events at the stadium’s entrance, issued a statement asking the responsible authorities to initiate a formal investigation.
On the other hand, French authorities such as Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin blamed the British fans and claimed that the Brits were violent toward stadium staff. Furthermore, Darmanin thanked the French police, who failed to prevent the events. The UEFA stated that it would investigate the issue further with the French authorities. Whoever is responsible for the events, the inadequacy of the security measures of the French state cast a shadow over the UEFA organization.
As a matter of the fact, this was/is not the first French inability nor was it the last. For example, the events in the Marseille-Angers, Nice-Marseilles matches and most recently the St. Etienne-Auxerre match during the last season led to questioning of the security dimension of the French football organization.
Two main conclusions
All in all, if we continue our analysis based on the famous saying that football is not just football, two main conclusions can be inferred from the above explanations. One, all of these events raise an important question about sports politics and diplomacy in our minds: How would the UEFA and the European sports public react if similar events happened in Istanbul, Belgrade or Bucharest? That is, not only are the responsible institutions hesitant to punish France due to its inability in organizations, but actually the opposite, they continue to reward France by forwarding new organizations.
Second, the weakness of and/or the use of disproportionate force by the French security forces in various social events such as immigrants’ riots, the yellow vest protests and most recently the chaos in sports competitions raise some questions about the capacity of the French state, its democracy and the rule of law. What is the role of the most recent populist wave in French politics, which otherizes certain segments of the society, in the emergence of the atmosphere causing these events?
As seen in the last general elections, almost 80% of French people voted for either ultra-right or ultra-left political parties. Does this new “radical” mainstream polity play a role in mishandling protests and organizations? Let’s wait and see.
Well, why do all these events concern us?
The scandals that questioned the possibilities and capabilities of the French state reminded us of the anti-Turkey propaganda and initiatives of the French political and bureaucratic circles between 2010 and 2014. France and Turkey competed with one another in 2010 as two candidates to host the 2016 European Football Championship. French political authorities, including then-President Nicola Sarkozy, put immense pressure on the UEFA to prevent Turkey from hosting the organization. The two most important arguments of the French propaganda against Turkey were: one, the delays in the preparation process caused by Poland and Ukraine, which hosted the 2012 championship, would repeat in Turkey; two Turkey was not safe enough. It was interesting that although the then Turkish president watched the presentations of the other two candidates, France and Italy, Sarkozy didn’t bother to watch the presentation made by the Turkish delegation. The voting was concluded in favor of France with a margin of only one vote, and France became the state that hosted the championship the most.
The rivalry between the two countries did not end with this decision. Turkish authorities were confident that they could get the Euro 2020 Championship. However, this time a French UEFA president, Michel Platini, challenged Turkey’s candidacy. Platini was well aware that Turkey was the strongest candidate for Euro 2020. After increasing the number of participant teams from 16 to 24, Turkey emerged as the only most serious candidate that was ready to take the responsibility. However, in order to prevent Turkey from hosting the organization, Platini initiated a process that ended up with an unprecedented practice: 13 different countries hosted the championship to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the organization.
When comparing the large-scale organizations organized in the two countries, especially in terms of security, it became clear how wrong and biased the arrogant French approach was toward Turkey. In other words, it is not Turkey but France that fails to take the necessary measures during the large-scale sports organizations.