French government 'sad and sorry' for Champions League chaos, as interior minister repeats fake ticket claims

·4-min read

The French government has said it is "sad and sorry" for the disruption faced by Liverpool fans at last week's Champions League final in Paris, though interior minister Gerald Darmanin has refused to back down on claims the use of fake tickets caused the chaos.

The Champions League final was twice delayed as Liverpool fans struggled to enter the Stade de France, while social media footage showed Reds supporters being targeted with tear gas and pepper spray by local police.

On Monday, UEFA announced an independent investigation into the events after both Liverpool and the UK government - via culture secretary Nadine Dorries - called for a probe into the organisation of the match.

The French government has faced severe criticism since the contest, with Liverpool chairman Tom Werner calling for sports minister Amelie Oudea-Castera to apologise for her "irresponsible, unprofessional, and wholly disrespectful" claim that the club was responsible for the events after letting their fans "out in the wild".

Speaking after the events had been discussed during a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, government spokesperson Olivia Gregoire said Emmanuel Macron and his colleagues apologised to fans who were unable to gain entry to the match, but denied the events amounted to a "tragedy".

"Could things have been done better? Could it have been better managed? Yes," she said. "Was there a tragedy or injuries? No. Can we improve things in sight of the next sports competitions? Certainly.

"What was shared this morning is that we must keep a little composure, even if things are to be improved. We must not forget those who, before the government, had a bad evening, that is to say the supporters, the families, the 2,700 spectators with tickets who could not see the match.

"As a priority, the President of the Republic and the whole of the government were sad and sorry for these people, who were displaced and were simply deprived of a match."

Darmanin, meanwhile, has maintained the prevalence of counterfeit tickets, originally cited by UEFA as the reason for the congestion outside the stadium, was a crucial factor.

Speaking at a French senate hearing to discuss the controversial events, Darmanin claimed between 30,000 and 40,000 people either without tickets or using counterfeit tickets had been present outside the Saint-Dennis venue.

"Regarding the tickets, the Liverpool club asked that the tickets - the entirety - be in paper, whereas for all the other meetings of the competition, this was not the case," said Darmanin.

"It does not mean that all the fans had fake tickets, there were also spectators without tickets.

"People with counterfeit tickets passed the first screening and caused technical errors on the stadium turnstiles. Thus, people entered the stadium without control and took the place of people who had real tickets but who could not enter.

"Regarding the 30,000 to 40,000 counterfeit tickets, we never said so. We have always communicated about 30,000 to 40,000 people [either] without tickets or with counterfeit tickets. If some call us liars, we have sources.

"We arrived at a figure of between 109,000 and 119,000 people around the Stade de France, so much more than the real capacity of the enclosure."

Darmanin also contended that similar problems had been experienced at the 2019 Champions League final in Madrid, when Liverpool beat fellow Premier League side Tottenham, suggesting the presence of Liverpool in such contests presented a unique challenge for organisers.

"Liverpool is not a club like any other," he added. "[In] Madrid, in 2019, there were exactly the same problems, [the] same difficulties of counterfeit tickets and people outside the stadium.

"Our mistake was undoubtedly not to see that tens of thousands of people without tickets would go directly to the Stade de France."

Darmanin did, however, apologise "very sincerely" for the "disproportionate" use of tear gas by police, though he also rejected criticisms of the forces' general conduct at the match.

"It is obvious that for all football fans, the negative image of this match is an injury. Could we have avoided and anticipated more? No doubt," he added. "But I regret the criticisms suffered by the forces of order, which I represent and command."

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