Fans deserve better than to be used as political football in aftermath of Champions League final

The French authorities have not only mishandled their response by turning Liverpool supporters’ distress over the shocking safety issues and alleged criminal activity at Uefa’s showpiece into a diplomatic crisis, but now events have been weaponised by the far right, writes Laura Lawrence.

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There has been time to reflect on what happened at the Champions League final and, like Camilla Cabello, people are not happy. Liverpool fans are understandably upset and angered by their treatment in the build-up to Uefa’s flagship match of the season. The French response to the chaos has become political – not just in an international context, but domestically too.

With France due to host the Rugby World Cup and the Olympics, safety issues and alleged criminal activity around the Stade de France are being highlighted by opponents of Emmanuel Macron.

There have been calls for the French Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanin, to retract his statement that, “thousands of British ‘supporters’, without tickets or with counterfeit tickets, forced entry and sometimes assaulted the stewards.”

He later held a press conference to report that there had been “massive fraud on an industrial scale.” He emphasised that there hadn’t been the same issues with fake tickets amongst Real Madrid fans because tickets had been distributed electronically. This raises questions for Uefa as to why there were differences in distribution methods.

But supporters of far right presidential runner-up, Marine Le Pen, have been using this situation to accuse Macron and his government of “state lies”.

The New York Times also interviewed Ronan Evian, Executive Director of Football Supporters Europe, who said: “They [the French government] are trying to deflect the blame on Liverpool fans. I think they are choosing between a domestic political crisis and a diplomatic crisis with the UK, and they have chosen the second option.”

Liverpool are collating fan experiences to submit to the independent Uefa inquiry as first-hand evidence of the shambolic set-up at the Stade de France.

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You only have to scan social media for accounts of the day to see the extent of the issues. Problems ranging from a lack of clear signage to direct fans to the correct areas, lack of staff at multiple security checks creating dangerous bottlenecks, to authentic tickets taking two to five attempts to scan at the turnstiles resulting in over-zealous policing of fans – including children being pepper-sprayed and teargassed.

Where the far right are challenging Macron’s government is particularly around the safety of the area around the Stade de France. Robberies are allegedly frequent at sporting events. Many have reported that gangs of people were waiting for fans to intimidate and steal their tickets, with videos on social media of locals attempting to push on the turnstiles.

This is where the narrative is sensitive for the French government. Reports from Liverpool fans and footage online does indicate that a large number of the locals who were involved in the push on the turnstiles were young men of north African origin. A narrative that is easily weaponised by the far right to justify their stance on immigration.

I do not want to add fuel to this racist dog whistle. Instead, the question to ask is this: if the security checks were as stringent as the French authorities claim, how did ticketless fans, whatever their ethnic background or immigration status, get as far as the turnstiles?

The aftermath is now a political football with both UK and French authorities standing their ground. It’s amazing, but not surprising, how that football always gets kicked at the fans first.

Follow Laura on Twitter @YICETOR

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