Commentary

A Triumph of Security at the Stade de France

UEFA on Monday confirmed that Euro 2016 will remain in France, and that both the tournament’s opener on June 10 as well as its final a month later will still be held at the Stade de France in Saint Denis.

France’s national soccer stadium, of course, was one of the venues targeted by the suicide bombers who attacked Paris on Friday. At the time, the French national team was playing host to world champion Germany in a friendly, as no less than three blasts went off in succession near the stadium, two directly within earshot of those inside. If you were watching France’s 2-0 win against Germany on Friday, then you definitely heard these blasts, which received whistles from the bemused crowd.

Versions of what happened remain unclear. The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday one of the attackers had a ticket and tried to enter the Stade de France during the game, but he was turned away when security officials discovered that he was wearing an explosive vest. On Sunday, Thierry Braillard, the French minister of sports who was at the match, told television network France 2 that two attackers tried to enter the stadium -- with or without tickets, he wouldn't say -- but were turned away.

The plan was to detonate the vests inside the stadium with the intention of causing a potentially devastating stampede amongst the 75,000 spectators inside and send them into the streets, where a third bomber was waiting to blow himself up. The three explosions in Saint Denis -- the first in front of a bar, the second next to a restaurant and the third farther away next to a McDonald's -- were part of six coordinated attacks in and around the French capital that left 129 people dead and several more injured. Besides the three bombers, one passer-by was killed and 31 other people were injured, 15 seriously, outside the Stade de France.

French president Francois Hollande, a big soccer fan who was attending the game between France and Germany, was evacuated to a command post at the stadium following the second explosion, which was heard in the first half. The game continued to its conclusion as Hollande, who later left the stadium, ordered the fans be contained in the stadium. Authorities did not want fans to start leaving in a panic, nor did they know whether other bombers awaited outside the stadium. The two coaches, Didier Deschamps and Joachim Loew, knew, but they did not tell their players. Because of poor cell service in the stadium, few fans knew of the bombs or the accompanying attacks in central Paris. Television viewers of the match were not even told what was happening until after the game ended.

Fans were gradually allowed to leave the stadium in small groups through designated gates at the end of the game, although many opted to wait on the field as reports of violence throughout the city came in.

Arnaud Assoumani, the 2008 Paralympic long jump champion, told L'Equipe's TV channel that despite the initial panic, many people actually felt safer inside the stadium: "There was an announcement at the end to say certain gates were open. I feared a crowd surge, which is what happened. Everyone was trying to get out of the doors at the same time,” he said (via a ESPN report). "Some people were running and they were pushed up against walls and barriers. I don't think there were injuries, but it was a panic surge."

As for the players, the German national team, whose hotel had received a bomb threat on Friday morning, actually spent the night inside the stadium. In a show of solidarity, France’s players opted to do the same, instead of returning to their base at the French federation's complex in Clairefontaine. The German players, who were scheduled to have an off-day to tour Paris on Saturday and return home on Sunday, eventually returned to Frankfurt on Saturday morning.

On hearing the news that France would remain host of Euro 2016 next summer, French goalscoring great Just Fontaine, who holds the FIFA record for most goals scored over the course of one World Cup (13), said the attacks proved that his country should not host next summer’s finals. "Any other country could stage [Euro 2016], but we cannot,” the 82-year-old said. “I think France should forgo the tournament. I am very afraid that this black Friday could be repeated. I think we cannot guarantee the safety that is required to host such a big event. It is simply too dangerous. Do you really think that people are going to go to the Stade de France in future?"

Off The Post, for one, respectfully disagrees. While the Paris attacks certainly raise concerns about security in France ahead of hosting a major event like Euro 2016, the casualty count could have been much, much higher had it not been for the French security measures.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that French security forces are necessarily ready to host a major sports event next summer -- moreover, who is OTP to judge its preparedness anyhow -- it just means that this particular story should be regarded as a triumph for French security, because had that bomb gone off inside the stadium, thousands more lives would have been at risk, and the traumatic images of the aftermath and resulting panic surge, or stampede, would forever be linked to live sports events -- which is exactly what the terrorists would have wanted.
3 comments about "A Triumph of Security at the Stade de France".
  1. Kent Pothast, November 17, 2015 at 1:35 a.m.

    In October 2001 A French friend and I went to the Stade de France for a friendly between France and Algeria and terror was on everyone's mind. The security there was tighter than at the post 9/11 airports. Detectors and body frisks. My friend had to hand over his binoculars because "they might be thrown onto field". The game was cancelled in second half because fans got out of control - but with good humor.

  2. ROBERT BOND, November 17, 2015 at 8:53 a.m.

    was planning going next year, but won't unless special ops & LLE clean syria out.......

  3. Richard Brown, November 17, 2015 at 6:28 p.m.

    I have been following this closely. My wife worked in the WTC when it was hit on 9/11.

    Here in the US we forget to soon. My wife got to the WTC right after the first building was hit. She left cam home it took her six hours to get home. My grown up children kept calling me asking me about their mother. Until the phones went out.

    I talked a lot about this but I don't want to on a soccer publication.

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