Since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron have been leading the condemnation of Moscow, especially after President Vladimir Putin vowed to protect Russia’s borders and to prevent, by all means, Kiev from becoming a member of NATO or its partner in the sense of being an advanced base of its weaponry.
They have also spearheaded imposing a package of severe sanctions. To the extent, they have reached an awkward point, involving international sports institutions in these measures and pushing them to join the track, yet these very institutions banish any form of political intervention in the affairs of the national structures.
In tennis, for example, Russian players are expected to take part as neutrals. It is ridiculous to "distinguish" them in this way, which does not demean them or their country. The effect is rather the opposite.
Still, the majority of European countries, led by Macron, succeeded in convincing the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) and its president, Aleksander Ceferin, to move the Champions League final from the city of St. Petersburg to Paris on Feb. 25 -- the day after Russian soldiers entered Ukraine.
This promptness shows that the negotiations had begun, at least, since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine crisis.
UEFA's public thanks to the French president proved that he used all his weight to ensure that Paris "dethroned" the second Russian city and host of the world's biggest sporting event at the club level -- a way of reward, believed the tenant of the Elysee, and to taunt Putin, who had just received him so coldly in the Kremlin, placing him more than six meters from him during their one-on-one. The pretext of the coronavirus has also served to downplay the implications.
Nightmare of a contradictory decision
However, organizing a Champions League final is not an easy business. It requires enormous preparations, logistics and resources. UEFA itself and its specifications for this event set an average of 18 months for organizing it. Beyond the pitch and the stands, there is the arrival of the supporters of the two finalists, their movement and exit from the stadium, the reception and entry of thousands of UEFA officials, partners (sponsors) and guests, the strategy ensuring the safety of all these tens of thousands of people -- before, during and after the match. It has clearly become apparent that too much has been assumed of Paris' capacities and French possibilities by reducing this period to only three months. The result was long overdue.
Despite the means granted, the French president had to learn that the final of which he intended to be proud and which could serve him and his party two weeks before legislative elections turned into a nightmare.
Appearing before the Senate committees of laws and cultural affairs last Wednesday, Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin tried to explain the chaotic events.
"We have never mobilized so many police officers and gendarmes (6,800) around and in the stadium of France," he said.
However, this was not enough to prevent a real bullfight from jamming the entry gates, especially those reserved for English fans, yet disciplined and far from the hooliganism that would have compared to the Heysel Stadium disaster of 1985 involving the same Liverpool and Juventus fans that cost the lives of 39 people.
With pre-screenings abandoned, fans faced multiple issues, including jostling, crowding and a lack of discernment between holders of real and fake tickets.
At the same time, delinquents tried to attack the English fans, rob them and grab their necklaces, watches and laptops at the exit and along the subways.
As a result, chaos reigned, and eventually tear gas was used by French riot police on everyone after losing control of the situation.
In short, the match started 36 minutes late, without hundreds of ticket holders, the majority of whom failed to gain entry.
Better to be silent
At first, the prefect of Paris, the new Minister of Sports, Amelie Oudea-Castera, and Darmanin claimed the cause of the chaos was due to the roughly 30,000-35,000 English fans he wrongly accused of bearing fake tickets, a figure that could not be corroborated.
But other estimates put the figure far lower, between 2,000-2,500 maximum.
The interior minister would eventually retract his statement and admit that to the 75,000 seats of the stadium of France, also 30,000 other people waiting outside, not all of whom tried to enter.
He also admitted before the Senate committees “a wound for our national pride" and added: "Yes, we could have anticipated (it).”
Macron, for his part, let his ministers “manage,” preferring to remain silent for fear we will remember that this final in Paris was his initiative and wouldn’t want to be directly associated with the scandal.
Darmanin's claim was intended, in fact, to appease Prime Minister Johnson, who demanded from UEFA “a joint investigation with the French authorities.”
The fury of the mayor of Liverpool, Joanne Anderson, testifies to the “disgusting gestures of policemen,” according to her own words, and the caustic letter of Tom Werner, the chairman of the Liverpool Football Club, who described as irresponsible the statements of the French minister of sports, for whom “the British club has left its supporters in the wild.”
This is not to mention the testimonies and sensational images disseminated by the media and on social networks. Nothing to celebrate for a city that will host, next autumn, the major matches of the Rugby World Cup and in two years the Olympic Games. Saint-Denis and its Stade de France (mocked by a newspaper as "Stade de Farce") are now scary.
Macron leaves feathers
All these developments do not contribute to shine Macron's image in Europe and his desires to lead the European Union after former Chancellor Angela Merkel stepped down.
Even worse for his party. Indeed, the mediocre -- can also be defined as catastrophic -- management of this Real Madrid - Liverpool final, considered by the opposition and even by some allies as a failed test of the new government, is likely to influence from the first round of the legislative elections next Sunday on the results and break up its parliamentary majority.
Meanwhile, thousands of kilometers from Paris, Putin finally comes out, without a blow, the winner of a measure intended to harm him. He must be laughing under a cloak and saying to himself: “Was it not he who looked for it.? We Tsars know how to laugh last."