The party will go ahead as planned with every possible precaution taken to keep spectators safe and offset the threat of terrorism.
That was the message yesterday – as upbeat as realistically possible – from organisers of Euro 2016 which kicks off tomorrow with the host nation taking on Romania amidst the biggest security operation ever untaken for a sporting event of this magnitude.
With the French capital, and the country as a whole, still haunted by last November’s terror attacks that killed 130 people – including an attempted assault on the Stade de France, where tomorrow’s opener takes place – police and security officials have pledged to do their utmost to prevent the nightmare scenario of the tournament falling victim to yet another barbaric attack by Islamic extremists.
Every spectator entering every stadium will be subject to intensive searches at two separate security checkpoints in an attempt to prevent prohibited and potentially dangerous devices, especially explosive items, being smuggled in.
“No-one is unaware of what has gone in France as well as in Europe with regards to security over the last few months,” said Jacques Lambert, president of the organising committee. “This was imposed upon us but we set a target which was to bring together the best possible championship, including security, and avoid being knocked off course by external circumstances we could not control.”
As a result, French authorities have stiffened their resolve with some 10,000 private security agents drafted in to assist in what promises to be a challenging nationwide security operation at the 10 stadiums, the numerous fan zones where thousands of ticketless fans will congregate, hotels, public bars, training camps and the like.
Lambert said he and his team never considered scrapping the fan zones, such an integrally atmospheric part of major football events, despite warnings that they could be obvious terror targets. Of greater concern, he suggested, was a “regrettable” strike being planned by Air France employees and train staff.
Although the British Foreign Office has urged fans to be extra-vigilant, Lambert said it was important not to focus on the fear factor.
“We have no specific information coming from foreign security services,” he said. “Over the last eight months we have tried to move out of this negative spiral over which we don’t have much control,” he said.
“It was our belief it was better for those who like to watch matches free of charge on big screens to be set up in a specific area that could be secured in the best fashion possible as opposed to [them] going into town squares of their own accord where they wouldn’t necessarily benefit from any organised security measures.”
Nor, said Lambert, were there any plans to play games behind closed doors unless the storms that hit part of France with a vengeance earlier this week returned to render pitches unplayable.
Certainly fans of the 24 nations in the expanded tournament do not appear to have been unduly swayed by safety worries. In terms of tickets, 99 percent have been sold, with only around 8,000 left, Germany’s clash with Poland receiving the biggest demand.
Away from security issues, much interest off the field focuses on whether former Uefa president Michel Platini, banned for four years for that infamous “disloyal payment” he received from Fifa with Sepp Blatter’s blessing, will or will not be able to attend the tournament he considered his baby until falling spectacularly from grace.
Uefa has taken soundings from Fifa’s ethics committee as to whether Platini’s ban from all football activities means he cannot attend in any capacity and will have to watch his compatriots and the other 23 teams from the sidelines.
Platini, pictured below, still has number of friends in high places and there are many in the Uefa heirarchy who consider it unfair to ban him to from attending games in his homeland as a guest.
Uefa is in the bizarre situation of having neither a president nor a general secretary to act as a figurehead during the tournament, Gianni Infantino having taken over from Sepp Blatter at the helm of Fifa, though his first 100 days in charge have been anything but plain sailing.
Theodore Theodoridis, Uefa’s acting general secretary, said Fifa’s ethics committee had clarified that Platini “can be invited in a personal capacity as long as he doesn’t perform any official function.”
It was now up to Uefa’s executive committee to decide whether to invite him though he was unlikely to be present at tomorrow’s opening game.