The Euro 2016 soccer tournament will see 24 nations vie for the European championship title beginning on Friday in France. The kick-off game pits home team Les Bleus against Romania at the Stade de France, where a suicide bombing last November set off a night of fatal carnage in Paris. There are 2.5M spectators expected in the 10 stadiums hosting 51 matches across the next month, with several more millions watching from the so-called fan zones that are being erected in major centers; as well as in bars and at home on TV. Safety concerns have been at a high, especially following the deadly Paris Attacks at the end of 2015, and authorities say there will be an “exceptional” level of security so that Euro 2016 is “a sporting success, and remains what it should be: a party.”
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At last count, there are approximately 90,000 men and women charged with Euro 2016 security. That includes more than 77,000 police officers, gendarmes and firemen, as well as 12,000 private security agents. Special Forces group the GIGN and riot police the CRS also make up part of the deployment along with 300 bomb squad experts and a further 10,000 members of the military. Each of the soccer teams will have a security liaison officer to accompany it, as well as private security in many cases. There are 3,500 police officers dedicated to protecting the base camps for each team which have been declared no-fly zones, as have the stadiums.
Broadcasters are mobilizing their teams to cover what is one of soccer’s biggest tournaments. ESPN, which is airing all 51 meet-ups, will have commentators on the ground, from the pitches and in-studio in Paris. TF1, M6 and BeIn Sport are sharing matches for French television. National broadcasters the BBC and others have descended from around Europe and elsewhere.
One person at a major broadcaster tells me of their plans, “I don’t know if you would call it extra security. Everybody knows what the concerns are and are taking necessary precautions.” Contingencies are in place, one person with knowledge of the broadcast teams says, but it “doesn’t affect coverage. You have to just be careful and have a buddy system and know: If this happens, this is what you do. We all have evacuation plans.”
One key issue in terms of coverage would be “if someone blows up a power source in a stadium and nothing is coming out of there” in terms of a feed — the play feeds come from an IBC pool. In the case of that eventuality, some journalists are being outfitted with handheld cameras to ensure they can cover what could tragically go from being a sporting event to a breaking news story. “It would be stupid to say we’re not cognizant. But if you’re anxious, you ask out of the assignment. Nobody has asked out,” says a source at a major outlet.
Broadcasters will also be covering the fan zones where matches will be transmitted on giant screens for footie acolytes, and music acts will play live. The state has spent 8M euros on security for the zones, of which 1.9M is just for video surveillance. They have been a particular point of conversation with some parties believing they should have been eliminated. But Prime Minister Manuel Valls has said that to shut them down would be to give in to the terrorists. He has also told local press, “If we are aware of a credible threat, we will not hesitate to rethink the openings of this or that zone.”
This evening in Lyon, a simulated attack is being carried out in the fan zone located at the Place Bellecour. According to French media, 450 police officers and EMT workers, along with 180 “extras” are taking part. The Bellecour zone can accommodate up to 20K people. It will be open every day from noon to 11:45PM. Similar simulations — not unlike the one carried out ahead of the Cannes Film Festival, which ultimately went off without incident — have been staged in other host towns.
The biggest fan zone will surround the Eiffel Tower on the Champ de Mars which has a capacity of 92,000. Plainclothes officers will be mixed in with a huge police presence.
Euro 2016 organizing body UEFA says that it has worked in close collaboration with authorities to develop robust mechanisms so that all participants are safe. The French government is responsible for the overall security while UEFA handles the private security on official sites including the stadiums, training grounds and the IBC broadcast center. The government has called the mobilization “a veritable co-production” of the State, UEFA, the French Football Federation and the host towns. The security measures have been developed to “anticipate, plan for and, if necessary, react.”
The U.S. State Department on May 31 issued a travel alert to citizens venturing to Europe this month due to “the risk of potential terrorist attacks.” The government noted that “Euro Cup stadiums, fan zones, and unaffiliated entertainment venues broadcasting the tournaments in France and across Europe represent potential targets for terrorists, as do other large-scale sporting events and public gathering places throughout Europe.” France has extended its state of emergency through July 26.
It’s unclear if the state of emergency will deter football fans from making the trek. What might also get in the way is the current state of transportation to and within France. The country has recently been through a very difficult time. In late May, blockades at refineries caused a nationwide gas shortage, and transport strikes continue with no signs of abating. The CGT union is leading the charge against the government as it seeks to thwart labor law reforms, and the Civil Aviation Authority has said it is planning strike days in the coming month. What’s more, last week saw flooding in large parts of the country which caused the Seine to rise to levels unprecedented since the early 1980s. The Louvre and Orsay Museums in Paris were shut for several days as staff evacuated precious artworks from basement storage facilities. Many people have lost their homes and remain displaced.
Adding fuel to the fire of security concerns, it emerged on Monday that a Frenchman was detained with a cache of 125 kilos of TNT at the Ukraine border with Poland last month. According to Ukraine’s SBU security agency, the man “spoke negatively about his government’s actions, mass immigration, the spread of Islam and globalization, and also talked about plans to carry out several terrorist attacks.” French news agencies say he was targeting Muslim and Jewish places of worship as well as public buildings ahead of the Friday kick-off.
Speaking on French radio on Sunday, President François Hollande said the threat of attacks during Euro 2016 “exists” even if we “should not allow ourselves to be intimidated.”
Leaving security concerns aside for a moment, and praying things go off smoothly in my adopted home which has often found a common ground on the pitch despite larger differences, France certainly knows how to put on a spectacle. Each evening at 10:45PM beginning June 10, the Eiffel Tower will light up in the colors of one of the 24 countries vying for the championship. According to the JDD, via a deal with Orange, fan messages posted on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram will be counted and the country with the most hashtags (#FRA, #GER, etc) will have its colors emblazoned on the capital’s giant steel lady.
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