The Euro 2016 football tournament begins on 10 June amid fears of a terrorist attack targeting attendees, participants, local landmarks and transport hubs. Attempting to address these concerns, French authorities have taken steps to enhance security, particularly at stadiums and nearby fan zones, though questions remain over the safety of these locations and other public areas in the host cities.
The enhanced security may entail some disruption, with increased travel times at border crossings, airports and international train terminals. Travel in the areas of the host venues is also likely to be subject to delays.
If fresh intelligence emerges of a terrorism threat in Europe or in the event of an actual attack, the authorities are likely impose additional restrictions on movement, both within host cities and at borders. Attendees are advised to monitor government security notifications and information regarding security operations that could precipitate an attack.
The Euro 2016 football tournament, hosted in stadiums across France from 10 June to 10 July, comes amid ongoing concerns over the terrorist threat in Europe following attacks in Paris in November 2015 and Brussels in March 2016. During the Paris attacks, three militants wearing explosive vests attacked the Stade de France, where several matches, including the opening and closing games, of the Euro 2016 tournament are scheduled to take place. The militants had originally intended for one of the attackers to detonate their explosives inside the stadium while the other two attacked spectators as they fled. In the event they failed to gain access to the stadium and instead detonated their explosives outside, killing just one person out of a total of 132 people killed during coordinated assaults across Paris that evening.
The threat to major sporting events was further underscored by evidence revealed in April that those responsible for the attacks on the Brussels airport and metro had originally intended to target the tournament. According to Mohamed Arbini, a suspected member of the Brussels cell arrested in April, the plotters had given up their plan to attack the Euros only when they felt police were closing in on their position.
France continues to be seen as one of the principal targets for Islamist terrorism in Europe. The French intervention in Mali from January 2013 increased the country’s profile as a potential target for terrorist attack, and this was further elevated after Paris began conducting air strikes in Syria from September 2015. Following the November attacks, the aerial operations were significantly expanded, with French air strikes targeting Islamic State-controlled oil installations in Syria.
The terrorist attacks in Paris during 2015 established the ability of Islamist militants to carry out complex, mass-casualty assaults in the heart of France. The attacks took place despite additional security measures imposed following the shootings at the Paris offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, while a major counter-terrorism operation launched after the November attacks was unable to prevent remnants of the same terror cell to carry out the Brussels attacks in March. Fears that the Islamic State maintains cells within Europe remain, with the possibility that these individuals have both significant combat training and the capacity to build sophisticated IEDs. The use of high-yield explosives in the Brussels attacks and the ability to operate across borders despite the security crackdown indicate significant skill and resource on the part of the militants, fuelling fears that other cells may have similar capabilities.
Security at the venues
The estimated 8 mn people expected to travel to the host cities during the tournament, combined with the complexity of providing adequate security across so many venues over the duration of a month, presents enormous challenges to the authorities. The tournament will take place at stadiums in Paris, Bordeaux, Lens, Lille, Lyon, Nice, Marseille, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse. Each city will contain large, dedicated fan zones in squares or parks near host stadiums, capable of holding tens of thousands of people. In addition, the 24 participating teams will be based in a number of locations, including Aix-en-Provence, Chantilly, Montpellier and Versailles, compounding the highly dispersed nature of the security requirement.
In response, the government has taken broad steps to enhance the tournament’s security, the cost of which has doubled from its initial forecast to USD 28 mn. Some 10,000 people have been hired to help provide security, including 900 guards at the matches. Filtration measures will be in place to prevent those without tickets from approaching stadiums. France’s various anti-terrorist units will be prepared to mobilise throughout the tournament, with responsiveness improved by establishing new bases and removing restrictions on the jurisdictions of different forces. Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve has said that through these measures, no part of the country will be more than 20 minutes away from an anti-terrorist unit. Additionally, the state of emergency imposed in the wake of the November Paris attacks has been extended until after the tournament, placing restrictions on large gatherings and granting additional powers to the police.
Although Paris represents the most likely area to experience an attack, particularly given the concentration of major landmarks and public transport hubs, it should be noted that the city has safely held several major sporting events since November without incident, including three Six Nations rugby tournament matches in February and March, and the Paris marathon in April. The fact that the three Stade de France bombers in November failed to gain entry to the stadium illustrates the effectiveness of the security checks in place at the time. Since the attack, the number of security personnel deployed to the ground has risen from 200 to 575, including police snipers. The threat posed by a potential attack has been further mitigated by the staging of several simulated attacks by the security forces in recent months.
Nevertheless, questions remain over the effectiveness of these measures, particularly with regard to the fan zones in host cities. The largest fan zone, on the Champs de Mars near the Eiffel Tower, will be 130,000 sq m in size and equipped to accommodate 90,000 people. City officials have said the site will be completely barricaded, with security features including metal detectors, video surveillance, daily bomb sweeps and restrictions on bag sizes. Police at the site will be assisted by a further 400 private security guards. Patrick Kanner, France’s sports minister, has claimed that these security measures will make the fan zones among the safest areas during the tournament. Others, however, have drawn attention to the dangers inherent in hosting tens of thousands of people in a confined area each night. Frederic Pechenard, head of the French National Police from 2007 until 2012, has claimed that in Paris particularly, the fan zone offers terrorists the chance to stage a massacre, and notes that the heavy deployment of police to the area will detract from the availability of personnel for counter-terrorism operations. Security forces will be unable to provide similar levels of security in city centres at host locations, where large crowds can be expected throughout the tournament.
Transport and border disruption likely amid enhanced security
The increased security measures likely to be seen throughout France during the Euros could entail some disruption to travellers. Security at border crossings, airports and other transport hubs has already been enhanced and is likely to be further tightened throughout the tournament, resulting in increased travel times. Within the host cities, travel will be subject to increased security checks, specifically in the areas around stadiums and fan zones but also likely around public transport hubs. The presence of large crowds and the associated burden on transport infrastructure may pose further difficulties in traversing the host cities. There also exists the prospect of disruptive false alarms, as seen in the aftermath of the November 2015 Paris attacks; a bomb scare at Hannover four days after the attacks caused the cancellation of a planned football match between Germany and the Netherlands. Similar incidents could see the temporary closure of venues, transportation hubs and public gathering points.
Broader disruption is highly likely if intelligence emerges of a specific terrorism threat or if an actual attack takes place. Emergency border controls introduced in the wake of the November attacks would be strengthened, further limiting free movement between France and its neighbours. Following the March attacks in Brussels, some 1,600 additional police were deployed to border crossings and transport hubs in France, while access to public transport areas was restricted to people holding tickets and identification. In April, the reopening of Belgium’s Zaventem airport, one of the targets of the March attacks, was beset by major delays amid enhanced security procedures, with some passengers reportedly missing their flights. As France’s long-running state of emergency has demonstrated, there is the potential for security measures to remain in place long after an event, resulting in longer-term disruption.