By Andrew Warshaw in Paris
June 9 – The show will go on as planned with every possible precaution taken to keep spectators safe and offset the threat of terrorism. That is the message from organisers of Euro 2016 who are taking a realistic, pragmatic approach to the build-up to Euro 2016 which kicks off Friday with the host nation taking on Romania amidst the biggest security operation ever mounted for a sporting event of this magnitude.
Organising president Jacques Lambert (pictured) and his team are determined to bring the focus back on football after weeks of headlines about safety and fears of a repeat of last November’s terrorist atrocities that killed 130 people.
The French capital, and the country as a whole, is still haunted by the co-ordinated deadly attacks described by president Francois Hollande as a act of war.
The first of the explosions occurred outside the Stade de France where France were playing Germany in a friendly. A suicide bomber blew himself up but the carnage that might have occurred was averted only due to the diligence of a security guard.
Once again the national stadium is the centre of attention and while no-one is trying to play down the threat of a repeat assault, organisers are at pains to stress that every precaution has been taken to ensure the tournament is safe for the millions of fans pouring into the 10 cities.
“No-one is unaware of what has gone on in France and in Europe with regard to security over the last few months,” said Lambert. “We have had to deal with this context imposed upon us while remaining focused on our goal of bringing together the best possible European Championship from every aspect, including security
“Our aim was to avoid being knocked off course by external circumstances that we could not control so we had to revise a number of our plans and stiffen our security measures, working with the government to have the most professional and effective security measures possible.
“But we really wanted to maintain all the other dimensions of the event to try move out of this negative spiral in which we have found ourselves. It hasn’t been easy but we have really worked hard to give you the best organised European Championship.”
In order 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.
Some 10,000 private security agents have been drafted in to assist in the gigantic security operation not only at the stadiums but also the fan zones, hotels, public bars, training camps and the like.
France is still in a state of emergency but 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, were the “regrettable” transport strikes which threaten to cause major disruption across the country.
“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 return 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% have been sold, Germany’s clash with Poland having received the biggest demand.
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