By Andrew Warshaw
March 23 – As next summer’s expanded European Championship finals in France come under increasing scrutiny because of the threat of terrorism, UEFA have been quick to express assurances about safety and security in the wake of Tuesday’s Brussels attacks that killed at least 34 people and left scores more injured, with one high-ranking UEFA official suggesting matches might even have to be held behind closed doors.
Having already struck at the heart of Paris last November in those horrific attacks that left 130 dead, there are growing concerns that the terrorists remain one step ahead amid international condemnation of their tactics and that they could seriously disrupt the Euros in June and July.
Euro 2016 organisers have been on high alert ever since the co-ordinated attacks in Paris when the Stade de France was also targeted during an international friendly between France and Germany. Over the next week a spate of warm-up friendlies takes place throughout the continent.
“UEFA wishes to reaffirm its commitment in placing safety and security at the centre of its organisational plans for UEFA Euro 2016,” a statement said.,
“Euro 2016 SAS (safety and security) will monitor the level of risk for the tournament. For over three years now, Euro 2016 SAS has been working with the authorities to guarantee a safe and secure tournament and all measures are being taken to ensure that is the case for all involved.”
Belgium are due to play Portugal on March 29 but have cancelled training for a second day and seem likely to call off the fixture, just as they did against Spain shortly after the Paris attacks. Belgian national captain Vincent Kompany said he was “horrified and revolted” by the latest atrocities.
UEFA vice-president Giancarlo Abete has reiterated that the Euros will go ahead regardless – even if that means staging matches behind closed doors.
“Euro 2016 is the kind of event that we can’t delay or postpone,” he told Italian broadcaster Radio24. “If we talked about potentially cancellable games, such as a friendly or a competitive match, they could be moved to another date. We can’t exclude the possibility of playing behind closed doors, as we cannot exclude terrorism.”
French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve says a massive security operation will be inevitable at the Euros. “The events in Brussels remind us of the very high level of security which is necessary to ensure Euro 2016 is successful,” he said. “Euro 2016 should be a celebration but collective security is an obligation for everyone alongside the government.”
English Premier League club Norwich City, meanwhile, have confirmed that on-loan Dynamo Kiev striker Dieumerci Mbokani is “unharmed but shaken” after being present at Zaventem airport where 11 people died in one of Tuesday’s explosions.
Mbokani was in the DR Congo squad for their Africa Cup of Nations qualifying double-header against Angola on Saturday and next Tuesday. It is believed he was on his way to Kinshasa from Brussels to join up with his international team-mates.
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