Football and Politics: The French Fiasco

The Champions League, the most prestigious organization of UEFA, the supreme authority of European football, is the institution’s most celebrated organization, known for its contemporary calendar. The organization announces the playing hours and days well in advance of the game time and all national partner institutions follow the calendar minute by minute. However, the final Champions League final, played in Paris on May 28, 2022, started about 40 minutes late.

After the chaotic events, French police used tear gas to prevent people with no or fake tickets from entering the stadium and arrested more than 100 people and took dozens into custody during the final between Liverpool and Real Madrid. Some ticket holders were only allowed into the stadium for the second half of the game.

The chaotic events at the 80,000-capacity Stade de France were seen as a national embarrassment and a disgrace to France, including most French politicians. Many French politicians and media went further, raising questions about France’s ability to organize major events like this. For example, Nathalie Loiseau, an MP in French President Emanuel Macron’s party, claimed that events had shown that France was not ready for the Paris 2024 Olympics. The British media sharply criticized the French authorities for the incidents. A British newspaper, The Sun, even renamed the stadium, renaming the Stade de France the Stade de Farce.

A screenshot from The Sun's website shows the Stade de France's daily titling of

A screenshot from The Sun’s website shows the daily transfer of the Stade de France to the “Stade de Farce” on May 28, 2022.

On the one hand, British authorities and the press slammed French police for spraying pepper gas on British fans and even British footballer Joel Matip and his family. Kenny Dalglish, one of Liverpool’s legends, said French authorities should be ashamed of the disproportionate police response. Liverpool authorities, disappointed by the unacceptable events at the entrance to the stadium, issued a statement urging the relevant authorities to launch a formal investigation.

On the other hand, French authorities such as Home Secretary Gerald Darmanin blamed British fans, claiming that the British were violent towards stadium staff. In addition, Darmanin thanked the French police for failing to prevent the events. UEFA said it will continue to investigate the matter with the French authorities. Whoever is responsible for the events, the inadequacy of the French state’s security measures casts a shadow over the UEFA organization.

In fact, this was/is neither the first French incompetence nor the last. For example, the events of the Marseille-Angers, Nice-Marseille and most recently the St Etienne-Auxerre games during last season have led to the security dimension of the French football organization being called into question.

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 drawn from the above. First, all these events raise an important question about sports politics and diplomacy in our minds: how would UEFA and the European sports public react if similar events took place in Istanbul, Belgrade or Bucharest? That is, the institutions responsible are not only reluctant to punish France for its inability to organize, but on the contrary, they continue to reward France by forwarding new organizations.

Second, the weakness and/or use of disproportionate force by the French security forces during various societal events such as immigrant riots, the Yellow Vests protests and most recently the chaos at sports competitions raise some questions about the effectiveness of the French state, its democracy and the rule of law. What role does the recent populist wave in French politics, which differentiates certain sections of society, play in creating the atmosphere that is causing these events?

France's former President Francois Hollande (L) looks on as France's former President Nicolas Sarkozy (C) shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron during the ceremony of his inauguration for a second term at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 7, 2022 shakes (AP photo)

France’s former President Francois Hollande (L) looks on as France’s former President Nicolas Sarkozy (C) shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron during the ceremony of his inauguration for a second term at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 7, 2022 shakes (AP photo)

As seen in the last general election, almost 80% of the French voted for either the ultra-right or ultra-left political parties. Does this new “radical” mainstream politics play a role in the mistreatment of protests and organizations? Let’s wait and see.

Now, why do all these events concern us?

The scandals, which questioned the capabilities and capabilities of the French state, reminded us of the anti-Turkey propaganda and initiatives of French political and bureaucratic circles between 2010 and 2014. France and Turkey competed with each other in 2010 as two candidates for hosting of the 2016 European Football Championship. French political authorities, including then-President Nicola Sarkozy, put enormous pressure on UEFA to prevent Turkey from hosting the organisation. The two main arguments of French propaganda against Turkey were: first, the delays in the preparation process by Poland and Ukraine, which hosted the 2012 championship, would be repeated in Turkey; two Turkey wasn’t safe enough. It was interesting that although the then President of Turkey watched the presentations of the other two candidates, France and Italy, Sarkozy did not bother to watch the Turkish delegation’s presentation. The vote closed in favor of France by just one vote, and France became the state that hosted the championship most often.

The rivalry between the two countries did not end with this decision. Turkish authorities were confident that they could win the Euro 2020 championship. This time, however, a French UEFA President, Michel Platini, questioned Turkey’s candidacy. Platini was aware that Turkey was the strongest candidate for Euro 2020. After the number of participating teams was increased from 16 to 24, Turkey emerged as the only serious contenders willing to take on the responsibility. However, to prevent Turkey from hosting the organization, Platini initiated a process that led to an unprecedented practice: 13 different countries hosted the championship to celebrate the organization’s 60th anniversary.

Comparing the major organizations organized in the two countries, especially with regard to security, it became clear how wrong and biased the arrogant French attitude towards Turkey was. In other words, it is not Turkey but France that fails to take the necessary measures during major sports organizations.

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