France Girds for Security Challenges at Euro 2016 Soccer Championship

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France Girds for Security Challenges at Euro 2016 Soccer Championship

PARIS—When soccer fans set off smoke bombs and firecrackers at the Stade de France last Saturday, the explosions did more than add to the drama of a French cup final between bitter rivals. They exposed gaps in France’s efforts to tighten security just two weeks before hosting Euro 2016, the continent’s largest sporting event.

Still in a terror-induced state of emergency after 130 people were killed in the November attacks, French authorities are preparing to manage 8 million fans and secure around 100 locations for the European soccer championships.

France’s apparatus was being tested at the game between Paris Saint-Germain and Olympique de Marseille, held in the same stadium suicide bombers targeted in November. Despite new security barriers where all attendees were supposed to be searched, soccer fans were able to smuggle in banned smoke bombs. When they went off, stewards had to cope with waves of people moving through the stands to get away.

The breaches highlighted the unprecedented challenge France faces in securing Euro 2016, a sprawling tournament that will run in 10 French cities from June 10 to July 10 and overlap with the three-week Tour de France bicycle race, for which security is also being beefed up. Due to the terror threat, for the first time a SWAT team will accompany cyclists along the 2,200-mile race, and 23,000 police and gendarmes will be deployed on the route.

France Girds for Security Challenges at Euro 2016 Soccer Championship

For the Euro matches—the first major men’s soccer championship held in Western Europe in eight years—two million fans from abroad are expected to flock to French stadiums and town centers. Despite the security fears, 30 of the 36 opening-round games are completely sold out, according to the official tournament ticketing website.

The French public appears sanguine about the risks. According to a survey of 1,002 French people at the end of March, 82% thought Euro 2016 and the Tour de France should go ahead despite the official state of emergency that was declared after the Nov. 13 attacks and remains in place.

France has deployed thousands of police and soldiers at sensitive locations after those attacks, which highlighted the vulnerabilities of so-called soft targets such as sports events and concerts. Police investigators say the Islamic State operatives who killed 32 in suicide bomb attacks in Brussels in March were planning attacks in France, including at the soccer championship.

Tournament organizers hiked the security budget after Nov. 13 by 15% to ˆ34 million ($38 million) for locations directly connected to matches and teams. But fan zones, where thousands of people without tickets gather to watch the games, have caused more consternation. In previous tournaments, such as the 2006 World Cup in Germany, the wide-open areas ringed with big screens were hailed as the beating heart of a national celebration.

In Paris, a zone at the foot of the Eiffel Tower is expected to draw 90,000 fans on an almost daily basis.

The state and local authorities will spend ˆ17 million securing fan zones and installing video surveillance at the sites. Authorities will carry out systematic frisking around the areas and ban open-air screenings and gatherings outside of the fan zones.

The French state will mobilize 73,000 police officers and gendarmes for Euro 2016 and redeploy some of the 10,000 soldiers on the homeland antiterror mission.

Some participating teams have expressed concerns about security.

“After what happened in November you can’t just ignore it,” said Germany manager Joachim Löw, who remembers hearing the explosions around the stadium as his team played France that Friday night in November.

Each of the 24 squads will travel with a delegation of police, private security and at least two French SWAT-team members.

The high state of alert contrasts with France’s most recent experience with an event of this scale: the 32-team World Cup in 1998, when the national team, Les Bleus, lifted the trophy on home soil.

France Girds for Security Challenges at Euro 2016 Soccer Championship

“This has led us to deploy security measures that are much more complex, much more complete and much tougher,” said Jacques Lambert, the head of the Euro 2016 organizing committee who also ran that World Cup.

A spotlight is particularly on Mr. Lambert’s security chief, Ziad Khoury.

Even without the terrorism risk, these would be the most logistically challenging Euros in the tournament’s 56-year history. When France last hosted them in 1984, there were eight teams playing in seven cities; this summer, the tournament will feature 24 teams for the first time. Beyond the 10 stadiums, there are 24 team base camps and practice centers, plus team hotels in every city.

Mr. Khoury hired 13,000 private security agents from up to 45 providers to secure the competition. He said he preferred engaging multiple firms to avoid the kind of fiasco that erupted just weeks before the 2012 Olympics in London, when the organizing committee’s main security provider said it was short several thousand staff. The British government had to supply 3,500 army personnel to make up the shortfall.

At the Euro 2016 stadiums, where 2.5 million spectators are expected, there will be explosive checks for vehicles, drone detection and more thorough scanning by state security services of anyone holding an official pass. Each venue will have several security perimeters designed to keep away anyone without a ticket. All private security staff have undergone a 14-hour antiterrorism training course.

Mr. Khoury said thorough instructions to stewards and volunteers is the most important first step to securing gatherings this large. “A soccer event remains more a human security event than a technological one,” he said.

Authorities are putting security forces through their paces in 50 or so mock attacks and catastrophes. In one exercise at the Saint-Etienne stadium in southeastern France, authorities simulated a drone crashing into a stadium after scattering chemical product over stands. In Bordeaux, emergency services tested dealing with multiple victims at a 62,000-capacity fan zone in the city.

“We are taking maximum precautions to ensure safety, even if, as everyone knows, there is no such thing as zero risk,” said French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve.



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