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France’s sports minister is so eager to “reconcile” with England fans irritated by poor organisation at Rugby World Cup games that she will attend their next match on Sunday to monitor security, transport and even the beer supply.
Amélie Oudéa-Castéra told the Financial Times she would “personally monitor every detail” at the match in Nice to ensure that fans unhappy about overcrowding, beer running short, and other problems at previous games would be well served this time.
“Their experience at the match against Japan must be impeccable from start to finish,” she said.
The stakes are high for the 45-year-old first-time minister, who has been tasked by President Emmanuel Macron with helping to deliver a successful Rugby World Cup this month ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympics next summer. With 2mn tickets sold, the seven-week tournament is a critical test of the readiness of French transport, security and hospitality infrastructure.
So it was particularly unfortunate that there were problems at two Saturday night matches — England vs Argentina in Marseille on September 9, and to a lesser extent, Ireland vs Romania in Bordeaux the same evening, where there were transport issues.
In Marseille, British fans took to social media to slam long wait times to get in, which caused some to miss kick-off. The Daily Mail called it “chaos” with “crushes and long queues”.
World Rugby, the tournament organiser, apologised the next day.
Things are particularly tense between France and British sports fans because the memory of the security fiasco of the 2022 Champions League football final in Paris is still fresh. A flawed transport plan and disorganised security caused dangerous overcrowding around the Stade de France, leading to chaotic scenes of police using tear gas on fans and pickpockets targeting people.
The incident turned into a diplomatic spat with Britain after France — alongside European football’s governing body Uefa — initially blamed Liverpool supporters for the scenes. Independent inquiries later proved that was false.
“The English are still mad at us,” Oudéa-Castéra said ruefully.
But she urged against overblowing the recent incidents at the two rugby games, which she characterised as unfortunate “teething problems” that France quickly corrected.
“It was chaos at the Stade de France but that is not what happened in Marseille,” she said. “There were no dangerous crowd movements, no criminality, and no security problems. There were just long wait times that were totally unacceptable.”
She said the problems were largely caused by the fact that volunteers who are supposed to direct fans to two entrances to the Velodrome were not positioned correctly, leading to build-ups of crowds at only one entrance.
England fan Justin Addleton and his three friends were caught in the crowd bottlenecks along the walkway and stairs up to the Velodrome, a situation he described as “entirely unsafe” and “an absolute shambles”. It took almost an hour and a half to get in, the group struggled to get drinks, and there were not enough stewards or people checking tickets, he said.
“It was the worst organised sporting event we’d ever been to,” he said. “I’ve asked my mum to reconsider trying to get Olympics tickets because I just don’t think she’d be able to cope in similar circumstances.”
The government, police and organisers responded by rejigging the plans for matches the following night. There have not been similar problems in games played subsequently in Paris, Marseille, Lille and Bordeaux.
To prevent any more mishaps, every detail counts, said Oudéa-Castéra, including addressing the long lines for beer. For the England vs Argentina game, organisers simply could not keep up with demand on a very hot day: 83,000 beers were sold, compared with a previous record of 50,000. “We will ensure that the service and the experience inside the stadium is better,” she promised.
Her hope is that this will help to rebuild France’s reputation abroad as a reliable host of large-scale sporting events.
“I want to reconcile with the English,” said Oudéa-Castéra. But with France among the favourites to win the World Cup, her sporting loyalties are clear: “I just want us to beat them in the rugby.”
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