Jhe quarter-final of the European Championship between Iceland and France was not the only significant event organized at the Stade de France on 3 July 2016. The Council of Europe also organized a ceremony on that day opening day for the signatories of a new agreement aimed at providing “a secure and welcoming environment during football matches and other sporting events”.
France was one of the signatory member states and the legally binding international treaty takes its name from the location of the ceremony. The Saint-Denis convention was born. The irony of France’s public commitment and convention name will not be lost on anyone affected by the chaos outside the Stade de France before, during and after Saturday’s Champions League final between Liverpool and Real Madrid.
Liverpool fans were bottlenecked by French police as they approached the stadium and were sprayed with tear gas as they were trapped outside closed turnstiles. Many were attacked and robbed by locals on the streets of Saint-Denis as they left the French national stadium after the game.
At the time, attempts to deflect blame from the shambolic organization and police brutality were underway, with UEFA blaming the delayed kick-off on “the late arrival of fans” before changing tact to counterfeit tickets. French government ministers have maintained that line ever since, along with the claim that, based on rail ridership figures, an additional 30,000 to 40,000 Liverpool fans descended on the stadium either without tickets or with counterfeits.
The realities of last Saturday are a far cry from the obligations enshrined in the Congress of Saint-Denis. France was among the 14 Council of Europe member states that signed the convention when it was launched in 2016. The total is now 23 states that have signed and ratified it – including the Russian Federation, which does not is no longer a member after its invasion of Ukraine – plus 15. States that have only signed (including the UK).
Its original form was the Spectator Violence Convention, adopted in 1985 after the Heysel Stadium tragedy, but, as the title suggests, it was too focused on safety and not the overall management of a sporting event major. In 2011-2012, the committee that oversees the convention adopted 28 specific recommendations to improve safety, security and service at major sporting events.
These were repeated in 2015 in a single consolidated recommendation, making it possible to bridge the gap between the 1985 agreement and the new one signed at the Stade de France the following year. The secretary of the Saint-Denis convention, Paulo Gomes, details some of his key articles. “He mentions the need for coordination arrangements,” Gomes says. “It talks about all the essential standards for safety, security and service inside sports venues, the three main risks being pyrotechnics, any violent or other prohibited behavior and, last but not least, any racist or discriminatory.
“We also have a specific article dealing with these aspects outside of sports venues. It is very important to cover the entire spectator route from home, to the city, to the stadium and then back home. This includes fanzones, everything that happens in the city center and around the stadium.
“There is also an article on emergency and contingency planning, to deal with any type of incident inside or outside the stadium. This convention mentions very clearly for the first time that there must be communication and trust between public authorities, namely the police, supporter groups and local authorities and businesses.
“We have an article on police strategy and operations. It outlines good policing practices at football events, such as the importance of intelligence gathering, dynamic risk assessment, risk-based police deployment and, perhaps most important to me, the proportionate intervention of the police to prevent the escalation of risk or disorder. A proportionate response – that’s the key. And, last but not least, gathering evidence and sharing evidence with relevant prosecution authorities.”
Gomes cannot comment on the details of the police operation in the Champions League final due to the various investigations that have started. But he admits: “It’s about international cooperation. During international matches like in Saint-Denis, it is essential that there is an exchange of experiences and information between the sports authorities but also the police. We have a European network of NFIPs – national football information points, there is one in each Member State – and they facilitate the exchange of police information between them.
“The French police in Saint-Denis had to receive relevant police information from their Spanish and British counterparts in the NFIPs to help them plan and prepare for the policing of this event.”
Fans’ union Spirit of Shankly said they worked closely with Liverpool, Football Supporters Europe and Merseyside Police on fan safety in the weeks leading up to the final, but their “collective work was ignored by UEFA and the competent French authorities”.
The Council of Europe contacted the French authorities last week and the committee will consider the lessons learned at its next meeting. “The convention does not establish penalties for non-compliance,” admits Gomes. “What we are currently examining with the committee, still in draft form, is to adopt a non-compliance procedure but only for cases where the State party does not comply with its procedural obligations by providing information on the implementation of the convention at the national level. level.”