French police are gearing up for Euro 2016, which kicks off on June 10th, and apart from the heightened threat of terrorism they also have to deal with the risks that there could be outbreaks of hooliganism.
Given that some 2.5 million fans are set to descend on the country for the month-mong tournament, it's no surprise the scale of the policing operation has been described as “extraordinary”.
One group of fans that will be of particular concern to the French police will be those from England, given their history of disorder.
While the image of England fans has improved somewhat in the last ten years and recent tournaments have been trouble free, French authorities still have bad memories of the last time a major football tournament was hosted in France – the 1998 World Cup.
The event was marred by riots involving English fans in Marseille and Lens and Lille.
(Fighting on the beach of Marseille. Photo: AFP)
(England fans are led away by French police after causing trouble in 1998. Photo: AFP)
They will also remember Euro 2000 in Belgium, which was also marred by riots involving England fans.
French police and their English counterparts, who have been working to minimize the risks, are determined to prevent a repeat of 1998.
Commissaire Antoine Boutonnet (see photo below), the policeman in charge of fighting hooliganism in France, told The Local that thugs intent on causing trouble “should not take the risk” of travelling to France.
“Anyone who comes to France with bad intentions is not welcome,” Boutonnet said.
“It’s not worth coming. That’s clear.”
(Photo: AFP Video)
British authorities recently wrote to around 2,000 known English troublemakers warning them to hand over their passports or risk prosecution.
Those on the black list are subject to banning orders in the UK. Police in the UK will launch a major operation at ports and airports in the days leading up to Euro 2016 to stop known thugs from travelling to France.
“Anyone who has been banned from stadiums in England will be staying in England. They won’t be coming to France,” Boutonnet said.
“It’s clear our aim is avoid these people coming to France in the first place and we have asked our colleagues from other countries to make sure these supporters are not allowed to travel to France.
'England versus Wales sensitive'
“We’ve been working a lot with our colleagues in England and that has allowed us to identify a certain number of individuals who could present a threat to public order.
“British police will be present in France throughout the competition to manage the supporters and identify those who could cause trouble.”
The police chief said they had identified five matches at Euro 2016 that were higher risk than the others, one of which is believed to be England versus Wales in the northern town of Lens on Thursday June 16th.
'The match between England and Wales in Lens will obviously be particularly sensitive and we have been working on this with our British colleagues for a long time and continue to do so,” he said.
French authorities warned fans of the two teams this week that there would be an alcohol ban in place in Lens for 24 hours in a bid to prevent booze related violence breaking out.
Ticketless fans welcome
Some 500,000 British football fans are expected to descend on France for the tournament, over half of whom won’t have tickets.
Ticketless fans tend to make police and authorities edgy but Boutonnet said all fans would be welcome as long as they has good intentions.
“Euro 2016 is festive, sportive time and everyone is welcome. For those who want to come and enjoy the tournament, then they are welcome.”
British police sent to France will not just have the duty of policing their own supporters but will aim to act as “cultural interpreters” to prevent heavy-handed tactics against drunk and rowdy fans who may not cause serious trouble.
But Boutonnet’s counterpart in England, assistant chief constable Mark Roberts, the national lead for football policing, said the onus was on England fans to behave appropriately not the French police.
“We've got to accept that France has got its own policing style, it's a different country, so it's really for our supporters to be aware of that and to be respectful of the country that they're in and allow the French police to concentrate on keeping them safe.”