A UEFA-commissioned review into the poor treatment of Liverpool fans outside the 2022 Champions League final has found the failings “almost led to a disaster” after faults by European football’s governing body and the lack of a venue risk assessment by French authorities.
French police face criticism in the independent report for firing tear gas and pepper spray indiscriminately on concourses near turnstiles being used by Liverpool fans, leading to crushing around security barriers at the Stade de France before the game against Real Madrid.
The report was ordered by the UEFA leadership to uncover what went wrong – even within their organisation. Its conclusions were discovered by Sky News before the report was then published in full on Monday evening.
There were significant issues accessing the venue and French authorities are criticised for deflecting responsibility, particularly after false claims about a mass of fans without tickets or fake ones.
Police blamed for not being proactive enough in intervening when locals – who tried to climb fences and jump turnstiles – attacked fans, and for being over-reliant on the use of tear gas and pepper spray on blameless fans.
UEFA, as event owner, is assigned “primary responsibility”, but it’s understood some commission members disagreed with the conclusion.
The report also says the police and the French Football Federation (FFF) “bear responsibility” because of their roles ensuring public safety.
It was called a near-miss event in the review, referencing an event that almost turns into a “mass fatality catastrophe”.
The lack of a “Plan B” is said to have been uncovered – contingencies that could have seen stewards and police redeployed to deal with crowd management challenges.
The match was delayed for 37 minutes as a combination of operational problems outside the venue created access issues for distressed fans – particularly those who are disabled and asthmatics who had to contend with the tear gas and pepper spray.
There was a “massive” bottleneck when Liverpool supporters were funnelled through a narrow gap and tear gas was fired into an area containing thousands of Liverpool fans.
The review said: “The dangerous conditions on the concourse outside the turnstiles were compounded by the police deploying tear gas at disorderly groups of locals, as well as using pepper spray on supporters trying to gain entrance with valid tickets. It is remarkable that no one lost their life.”
The commission rejected attempts to blame ticketless fans by French authorities on the night of 28 May and said late arriving supporters weren’t a cause because problems were apparent about three hours before kick-off.
The report claims the senior management of UEFA Events SA – the UEFA division running tournaments and showpiece matches – marginalised the safety and security unit with the use of subcontracted stewards and then tried to avoid accountability.
Flawed and “objectively untrue” accounts by UEFA Events SA CEO Martin Kallen were criticised by the panel, which said evidence he presented to the French senate was a “completely misleading view of what it knew of safety problems at its previous events at the Stade de France”.
“This was unacceptable,” it added.
Although no serious injuries were reported, the event was seen as a near-miss which led to UEFA apologising to Liverpool fans and ordering an investigation into itself to learn from mistakes.
Final moved from Russia
There was truncated planning for the final after UEFA was forced to find a new venue due to Russia launching its invasion of Ukraine.
Saint Petersburg was stripped of the hosting only three months before the final.
Typically, venues are chosen multiple years in advance, although the location of the previous two finals was switched even closer to the game due to coronavirus pandemic travel issues.
The review team found organisers were too reliant on operational plans used for the French Cup final – a fixture involving domestic teams rather than thousands flying in from abroad.
It is understood the French Football Federation is alleged to have produced no venue risk assessment or “proper” event risk assessment.
The FFF didn’t respond to messages for comment through email and its media website on Monday.
‘No evidence of mass ticketless supporters’
UEFA is told it should have done more to challenge the failure of joined up working and find solutions on the night.
Disputing statements on the night by UEFA and the French government, no evidence of mass ticketless supporters has been uncovered.
In fact, more than 2,500 Liverpool fans were found to be unable to register legitimate tickets at turnstiles.
There is the potential that access points at the turnstiles wrongly deemed these to be fake – leading to the rushed conclusions – and pointing to issues with the infrastructure at the Stade de France.
Access issues to the stadium on the outskirts of Paris – following defective route planning from a train station – contributed to congestion and dangerous scenes on 28 May.
The side-lined UEFA security and safety unit should have been used to work with local authorities to check the route to the stadium and ensure turnstiles were working, the panel has found.
The French sports ministry did not reply to a request for comment.
The independent review was led by former Portuguese minister Dr Tiago Brandao Rodrigues and sports safety experts and English fan representatives were also consulted.
UEFA general secretary Theodore Theodoridis: “I would like to apologise most sincerely once again to all those who were affected by the events that unfolded on what should have been a celebration at the pinnacle of the club season.
“In particular, I would like to apologise to the supporters of Liverpool FC for the experiences many of them had when attending the game and for the messages released prior to and during the game which had the effect of unjustly blaming them for the situation leading to the delayed kick-off.”
With Liverpool fans vindicated, UEFA said it would introduce “appropriate changes and arrangements” for future finals.
‘Special refund scheme for fans’
UEFA said it “welcomes publication of the independent review into events surrounding the 2022 Champions League Final in Paris.
“UEFA is currently analysing the findings of the review and assessing them against its own analysis of the organisation of the event and facts that occurred around it.
“At the same time, UEFA is reviewing the recommendations of the panel in order to introduce appropriate changes and arrangements to ensure the highest level of safety for fans at future finals.
“UEFA will announce separately a special refund scheme for fans.”
‘It was the fans who averted disaster’
Mayor of the Liverpool City region Steve Rotheram said: “UEFA’s report vindicates what I and other fans have been saying all along: that is, it was the fans who averted a disaster and were clearly not to blame, whilst the organisers – UEFA and the French authorities – were really responsible.
“Fans who travelled to Paris expecting the night of their lives were put in harm’s way by the very people who are meant to protect them.
“They deserve a full and unreserved apology from authorities including UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin.
“It has been suggested that those failings ‘almost led to a disaster’, which was narrowly avoided by the actions of fans.
“Lessons must be learned to ensure the safety of the venues chosen to host sporting spectacles.
“In addition, the organisation before, during and after the game – and the heavy-handed treatment of fans – was predicated on flawed intelligence and the inaccurate preconceptions and prejudices of the authorities.
“Perhaps the safety of fans will be a primary concern now, instead of financially driven decisions by football’s governing bodies.”