If proven, French authorities’ accusation of fake tickets at the UEFA Champions League final would constitute one of the biggest event ticketing frauds in history.
European club football’s showcase event – the UEFA Champions League final (UCL) – has just taken place in Paris, with Spain’s Real Madrid defeating English club Liverpool to secure the trophy.
The match should be remembered for Vinícius Júnior’s winning goal, the numerous scoring opportunities Liverpool had or Marcelo’s last appearance in a Real shirt.
However, as the game starts to fade into history, it will probably be the chaotic scenes outside Paris’ Stade de France that people will remember most.
Such was the commotion in the suburb of Saint Denis, that the UCL final’s kick-off time was delayed by thirty-five minutes to enable fans to get into the host venue.
Memories of 1989 Hillsborough stadium disaster
An official UEFA investigation into the problems has already begun, though where it starts and where it ends will be complicated.
Some Liverpool fans were pepper sprayed, with many claiming poor organisation and that excessive police force was used against them.
There were also reports of local youth attacking overseas fans and jumping fences to get inside the stadium. Others mentioned a strike by transport workers as a contributory factor.
The entire episode was especially sensitive for Liverpool fans as it brought back memories of the Hillsborough stadium disaster in 1989, when 95 of their people were killed.
Members of the British media were quick to draw comparisons between the two matches, and indeed some journalists had also been caught-up in Paris’ problems.
As the weekend progressed, the French media began to criticise the likes of local organisers, government agencies and UEFA for the near catastrophe.
Fortunately, no lives were lost but such was the outcry that on the Monday morning after the game, where French government ministers held a press conference to provide their initial assessment of what went wrong.
Their view was that industrial-scale fraud was to blame for the debacle, in which they estimated that 70% of tickets for gaining entry to the match were fake.
This was an ambiguous, possibly disingenuous figure to quote at an official press conference attended by the global media. One thing an official inquiry will presumably seek to do is validate and confirm such a number.
If proven correct, this would constitute one of the biggest event ticketing frauds in history, begging the question of who might be responsible for perpetrating it.
Given the scale and sophistication of any operation that could do this suggests that either an organised crime gang or a state-related entity might conceivably have been involved.
Russian intervention in UCL ticket debacle?
It is worth remembering that the UCL final was initially scheduled to take place at the Gazprom Arena in Saint Petersburg, Russia. However, following this country’s invasion of Ukraine, European football’s governing body take the rapid decision to move the game to Paris.
At the same time, its near ten-year sponsorship deal with Gazprom – a Russian state-owned gas corporation – was terminated. Russian teams were further banned from UEFA competitions.
Whether or not Russia was the root cause of ticketing fraud in the French capital is nothing more than conjecture at this stage, although the country clearly did have a motive for disrupting the event.
The last decade has seen global sport fall under the disruptive and divisive influence of Russia. If ever the country’s role in what happened in Paris was proven, then it would be of grave significance for sporting events around the world.
Irrespective of whether the ticket fraud was the result of actions taken by an organised crime gang or a foreign power, it signifies that effective intelligence gathering is an important element in the organising of events.
One assumes that Qatar and its security services are already engaged in monitoring threats and mitigating risks ahead of the upcoming World Cup. After all, there are some countries and several groups that would be happy to see the country’s reputation be undermined.
How can Qatar learn from this ahead of World Cup?
One factor that appears to have contributed to problems in Paris was a local population of which some members appeared intent on causing trouble.
It seems incredibly unlikely that this will happen during the FIFA organised event, though the potential threat posed outside agitators is a very real one.
Several countries’ fans have a reputation for behaving badly at football matches, something the Qatari authorities will need to be managing even before such people set foot in Hamad International Airport.
Even in the case that fans are not troublesome, the sheer volume of people entering Qatar during November and December will pose issues of transport and flow management.
One thing that appears to have created crowd bottlenecks in Paris was the blocking-off of routes to the Stade de France. This resulted in large numbers of fans being deliberately confined into very small spaces.
Given the wide-open spaces round Qatar’s stadiums, it seems unlikely that similar such problems will be encountered. However, such open spaces may instead lead to other problems, particularly if some fans were to breach flow management systems and engage in aggressive behaviours. Controlling fans under these circumstances could become a significant challenge.
Several test events have been held in Qatar, notably the World Club Cup and the Arab Cup, though both are small and typically trouble-free events.
The World Cup is a very different event; no matter how much training police and security services have received, in a real match-day situation problems can rapidly escalate and become difficult to control. Just ask the French authorities, who are now faced with having to account for their inability to successfully stage just a single match.
Football has had more than a decade to dissect and analyse Qatar’s staging of the World Cup, though discourse has focused on other issues.
There has been little discussion about crowds, flow management, hooliganism, acts of violence or even terrorism.
At this stage, there do not seem to be any obvious or specific threats ahead, however, as November approaches, it is important that officials in Doha remain focused and do not become complacent.
Qatar does not want a repeat of Paris.