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UEFA apologizes to fans for 'frightening and distressing events' at Champions League final

UEFA, the European soccer governing body, apologized to fans on Friday for the "frightening and distressing events" around last week's Champions League final, which kicked off with thousands of Liverpool supporters stuck in dangerous crushes outside the Stade de France in Paris.

UEFA initially blamed the distress on "fake tickets," and French authorities have doubled down on that excuse. France’s interior minister, Gerald Darmanin, said the "fraud" was “massive, industrial and organized," and specifically blamed British fans.

But subsequent reports, eyewitness testimony and visual evidence have suggested the authorities lied about the scale of the counterfeit tickets, and in doing so distracted the public from incompetent policing and security practices that were primarily responsible for the horrifying scenes.

UEFA on Monday promised a "comprehensive review" or the events, and on Friday published the terms of reference for that review. "UEFA wishes — and needs — to understand what happened during the course of the day," the terms state. The review, UEFA said, will "examine event planning, implementation, decision making, responsibility and behavior of all entities involved in the final."

French president Emmanuel Macron has also called for “full transparency” in an investigation. Amid an uptick in violence across French soccer, the French state's inability to stage a safe Champions League final, and its subsequent refusal to accept responsibility, have exacerbated concerns about Paris' readiness for the 2024 Olympics.

Darmanin, the interior minister, eventually admitted at a Wednesday senate hearing that, “clearly, things could have been organized better.” A "very angry" local politician, Stéphane Troussel, said he'd "never seen such disorganization.”

UEFA's initial explanation was that, "in the lead-up to the game, the turnstiles at the Liverpool end became blocked" by fans whose tickets "did not work in the turnstiles." But trouble began long before fans reached the stadium's gates. Police had funneled some 20,000 Liverpool supporters through a single preliminary security checkpoint, creating a claustrophobic logjam and leading some to fear for their safety.

The police, meanwhile, were unable to prevent locals, unaffiliated with either team, from exacerbating the chaos. Many penetrated the perimeter and tried to climb fences around the stadium, according to reports from the scene.

Police used teargas, allegedly indiscriminately at times, to disperse crowds that included both non-ticket-holders and ticket-holders who'd waited for hours to enter the stadium. Many who'd paid hundreds, if not thousands of dollars for the trip to Paris left physically and emotionally harmed.

There were also credible reports of gang violence before and after the match in the areas surrounding the stadium in Saint-Denis, a Paris suburb. Real Madrid said in a Friday statement, citing reports, that fans had been "assaulted, harassed and violently robbed. ... Some of them even had to spend the night in the hospital."

While the problems largely affected Liverpool fans, Real Madrid also said that its "followers and fans deserve a response" from authorities.

UEFA acknowledged as much in its "sincere" apology hours later. "No football fan should be put in that situation, and it must not happen again," the European governing body said.

The match was delayed 37 minutes by the chaos. UEFA has not apologized for initially saying in its in-stadium announcement that the cause of the delay was "late-arriving fans," and has not retracted any of its previous statements.

Liverpool fans react after they make their way past security during the UEFA Champions League Final at the Stade de France, Paris. Picture date: Saturday May 28, 2022. (Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images)
Liverpool fans react after they make their way past security during the UEFA Champions League Final at the Stade de France, Paris. Picture date: Saturday May 28, 2022. (Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images) (Nick Potts - PA Images via Getty Images)