The Champions League fiasco showed the nature of French policing

The Champions League fiasco showed the nature of French policing
6 min read
10 Jun, 2022
The scenes of Liverpool fans being met with tear gas by French police at the Champion’s League final in Paris left many shocked, and put the spotlight once again on the historical violence of the institution, writes Yasser Louati.
Chaos ensued between Liverpool FC fans and French police before the Champions League final in Paris last Saturday. [Getty]

“Indescribable chaos” is how Liverpool fans reacted to the Champions League final fiasco in Paris.

“We have never seen such hostility” said one supporter.

What was supposed to be a celebration of sports turned into a nightmare for thousands of football supporters who were prevented from attending the match between Real Madrid and Liverpool, despite having purchased tickets and made the journey. Many were tear gassed by French riot police, including children.

These scenes completely overshadowed the 2022 Champions League final which will now likely forever be remembered in this way.

The reason for the chaos according to the French interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, was the “30 to 40 thousand ticketless supporters” which meant that numbers went beyond the capacity of the stadium. During a Senate hearing he claimed that “110,000 people had showed up on that day”.

But, when Macron’s lieutenant made the same case on national television when he put the blame on English supporters, dozens of journalists refuted his claims and called out the lack of preparedness by the hosts, as well as the excessive use of violence to marshal the crowd.

''The authorities’ approach was likely to have been shaped by outdated and problematic views of British football supporters. But whatever the reason, the world witnessed that for the French state, violence is seldom left as the last option in order to maintain ‘public order’.''

Sports journalists Ben Jacobs and Paul Gorst were amongst those who disagreed with Darmanin’s summary of things. Senator Michel Savin accused him of trying to “shirk his responsibilities”. Even French public opinion followed suit with 76% of people surveyed declaring they did not believe him.

The claim banded around that there had been an “industrial scale” case of ticket fraud has also hardly been corroborated.

It was clear to anyone watching that the French state’s focus when it came to security was not at all about welcoming fans.

The authorities’ approach was likely to have been shaped by outdated and problematic views of British football supporters.

Whatever the reason, the world witnessed that for the French state, violence is seldom left as the last option in order to maintain ‘public order’.

The police was given orders from “above” to tear gas people. However, when you look at who is at the very ‘top’ of the Paris police, this is perhaps unsurprising. Alongside Gerald Darmanin, is the Paris police chief, Didier Lallement, who was dubbed a “nazi” by former Conservative PM Alain Juppé.

Lallement’s track record speaks for itself. Since being appointed by Emmanuel Macron in 2019, he has made a name for himself because of the treatment of the Yellow Vest movement which included the mutilation and even blinding of many protestors, under his leadership.

Suffice to say, the combination Darmanin-Lallement is a marriage made in hell within an institution that is historically renowned for its brutality.

The Police Nationale was after all established in 1941 following a decree by Philippe Pétain, the man who sold out France to the Nazis.

The same establishment was responsible for the infamous massacre of Algerian protestors in Paris 17 October 1961, when hundreds of people lost their lives whilst marching for liberation against colonial rule. Not to mention just a few years later the May 68’ repression followed.

In recent years the police in France has not ceased to be accused of racism and brutality towards the Banlieues, made up of poor, racialised and migrant communities.

Yet, despite such a ‘legacy’, initiatives to review the policing system in France have hardly been on the political agenda. There were some attempts to “control” the institution under various governments in the past, but this was soon quashed.

In 2016, in the midst of the state of emergency, during which demonstrations were prohibited, the police marched in demand of better working conditions. The then interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, rather than calling for disciplinary action against the violation, increased their budget by €250 million.

A few years later, for having demanded zero tolerance against racism within the police force, former interior minister Christophe Castaner faced a brutal uproar by the police. This likely had something to do with Gerald Darmanin replacing him in 2020…

But what was once a French problem is going to become an international one given that France is due to host the 2024 Olympics.

The Champions League finals debacle is a dire warning about the government’s ability to organise major international events without turning them into a spectacle of chaos and brutality.

Liverpool fans are right to call Darmanin a disgrace, demand apologies, to press charges, and even to call for his resignation.

This was all a direct result of not only the inadequacy of Gerald Darmanin’s “national public order enforcement plan” to which Macron gave his total support, but also of overall “systemic failures” according to Sebastien Roché, director of research at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) and specialist in police-population relations.

Whilst the UEFA apologised for the "frightening and distressing" scenes, here are no signs that Macron will “deal with” the issues plaguing the French police, however.

This is despite in France’s Ombudsman receiving 1,957 complaints about “ethics of the security forces” in marshalling operations in 2019 alone.

Furthermore, rather than questioning the never ending controversies surrounding the French police and its methods, conservative news outlets not only downplayed the fundamental problem with the chosen methods of dealing with the crowd, they even resorted to effectively ‘blaming the Arab’. In his daily show, CNEWS host Pascal Praud lambasted French-Algerian player Karim Benzema for his sole presence and accused him of being the culprit for the chaos surrounding the Champions League final.

Didier Lallement has already announced he wants to step down before retiring. This may just be the convenient solution that Macron’s government needs to not actually address the root of the problem.

In reality, the French police has been formed in the image of the French republic: authoritarian and incapable of reforming itself.

One thing is clear, whatever Macron does is likely to come up short. For the rest of us, we must remember that until they give us justice, we must give them no peace.

Yasser Louati is a French political analyst and head of the Committee for Justice & Liberties (CJL). He hosts a hit podcast called "Le Breakdown with Yasser Louati" in English and "Les Idées Libres" in French.

Follow him on Twitter: @yasserlouati

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.