KEIR RADNEDGE in PARIS: UEFA has conceded for the first time that it will apply more serious consideration in future to the staging of flashpoint matches at its European Championship.
The European federation came in for heavy criticism for accepting the ‘accident of the draw’ which set England against Russia in Marseille on a Saturday night in the group stage.
This fixture schedule prompted immediate and widespread media criticism, pointing out the hooligan attachments to both teams plus the possibility of a repeat ‘contribution’ from local troublemakers, bearing in mind incidents at the 1998 World Cup when England played in the southern port.
UEFA accepted assurances from local security chiefs that they could cope. In fact, out of sheer operational and professional pride, it was invidious to think that police and security officials would have admitted to operational inadequacy – particularly in the current climate.
Indeed, violence erupted on the streets days from two days before the game and was then imported into the stadium by gangs of Russian thugs.
At subsequent press conferences UEFA disclaimed any responsibility even though it was its own system which selected the confrontation of those two teams in that particular venue at that specific time.
The denial of responsibility was maintained at an event-closing news conference by organisation president Jacques Lambert.
He said: “Neither UEFA nor the sporting organisations can have responsibility for incidents outside the stadium. We do not possess the powers. However, we have worked in close co-operation with the French government, its police and security forces.”
He regretted the “appearance of groups of hooligans who were very well organised, who were conveying extemist ideas and who were made up of strong national identity groups whose beliefs have very litle to do with football.”
Lambert was sure that, in future, greater liaison on the sharing of intelligence would help to prevent any recurrence.
Theodore Theodoridis, UEFA’s acting general secretary, praised the swift reaction of the football authorities whkch had included a warning of a team’s expulsion from the tournament should hooligan violence inside a stadum be repeated.
He said: “I think the quick reaction of both the UEFA executive committee and the disciplinary committee and the co-operation of the two national associations – which was exemplary – helped us avoid serious incidents after that.”
A confirmation that UEFA would review its own duty of care and concern came from competitions director Giorgio Marchetti.
He said: “Security around matches for all the fans is our highest priority. We will take everything into consideration. As for the match schedule . . . in future this may need us to do some changes as is appropriate.”
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