A Small Army Will Guard France's Euro 2016 Soccer Tournament

The Euro 2016 soccer tournament kicks off this week, and French officials are taking extensive measures to secure venues in ten cities against terrorist attacks, hooligan shenanigans, and clashing fans.
June 7, 2016, 8:10pm
Screenshot via paris.fr

The Euro 2016 soccer tournament kicks off this week with an opening match between France and Romania at the Stade de France stadium, north of Paris. With an expected 8 million soccer fans — including 2.5 million ticket holders — showing up for the event, officials are taking extensive measures to secure venues in the ten host cities.

Security lapses at recent soccer games have compounded existing concerns raised by the heightened terror threat since the 2015 Paris terror attacks. On Tuesday, Ukrainian authorities arrested a French national suspected of planning deadly attacks in France during the tournament.

The Euro 2016 also risks being disrupted by the ongoing strikes and protests over the country's much contested labor bill, and by the inclement weather, which has left parts of France underwater.

Addressing reporters on May 25, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve alluded to the "ongoing terror threat," and said that more than 90,000 people — including law enforcement officers, private security guards, and volunteers — would be mobilized to secure stadiums in the ten host cities.

After initially planning to deploy 42,000 police officers during matches, the Paris police chief announced Monday that an additional 3,000 cops would be stationed around venues.

An additional 5,200 civil security personnel have been mobilized to help secure the event, including 2,500 firefighters and 300 bomb disposal experts. Nearly 10,000 soldiers from Operation Sentinel — launched in January 2015, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks — will be sent to monitor venues during the tournament. Some 13,000 private security agents and 1,000 volunteer first aiders will also be on site.

Law enforcement personnel have taken part in nearly 30 training exercises over the past two months, in preparation for the event.

On Tuesday, nearly 450 police officers and first-responders responded to a simulated terror attack as part of training exercise in Lyon — one of the Euro 2016 host cities. In the exercise, cops were asked to respond to a staged suicide bombing and a shooting. The crowd was played by 180 extras.

Screenshot from a "fan zone" promotional video published on paris.fr

All stadiums that are hosting matches during the tournament will be ringed by a security cordon.

Last month, the Coupe de France soccer final between the Olympique de Marseille and Paris-Saint Germain at the Stade de France exposed serious security failures at the venue. The match was widely seen as the chance for French officials to put their security plan to the test ahead of the Euro 2016.

French daily Le Monde reported "throngs of people at the gates," and "smoke bombs and homemade bombs being introduced into the arena."

During his May 25 address, Cazeneuve said he would meet with representatives from the French Soccer Federation (FFF) and organizers of the Euro 2016 Monday to discuss the security failings and to "learn the lessons."

Cazeneuve listed several new security objectives following the match, including limiting overcrowding, better controls, and securing exits.

Another headache for the government is how to secure the tournament's "fan zones" — designated areas in host cities where soccer-lovers can watch games on giant TV screens. These fan zones will also be monitored by CCTV, and entrances and exits will be strictly controlled.

Euro UEFA 2016: découvrez la Fan Zone Tour Eiffel by mairiedeparis

In a letter published last week by French weekly Le Point, Paris police chief Michel Cadot suggested closing the Paris fan zone — which is located on the Champ de Mars, near the Eiffel Tower — during matches. Cadot argued that it would be difficult to separate clashing supporters, and that alcohol consumption on site could further exacerbate tensions.

"Mr. Cazeneuve gave me the response I had hoped for," the police chief told AFP, adding that the minister had promised to beef up security at the venues.

Despite refusing to completely close down the fan zone, Cazeneuve conceded that authorities would take more drastic measures — including closing the fan zones — in the event of a precise threat.

Aside from the terror threat, French officials are also bracing for an invasion of hooligans. To tackle the issue of rowdy soccer fans, the French police are teaming up with 180 cops from 23 countries that are taking part in the Euro.

Cazeneuve announced Tuesday that nearly 50 of these officers would be stationed at the International Police Cooperation Center (CCPI). The remaining officers will be deployed in other host cities as part of armed mobile units.

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This article originally appeared in VICE News' French edition.