Euro 2016: France kick off tournament amid security, strike and weather fears


Uefa says all 24 teams are in France, with Portugal – travelling in a plane bearing the name of legendary striker Eusebio – the last to arrive on Thursday.

EURO 2016 kicks off on Friday when hosts France face Group A opponents Romania at the Stade de France amid an unprecedented security operation.

France remains under a state of emergency after last November’s attacks on Paris, when 130 people were killed.

More than 90,000 police, soldiers and private guards will be deployed at the tournament, with seven million fans expected to visit the 10 host venues.

The US and British governments have both warned fans they could be at risk.

But organisers Uefa and French authorities insist they have done everything possible to keep the 2.5 million spectators expected at the 51 matches safe.

Paris alone will have a security force of at least 13,000 to patrol two zones and two stadiums, with the country’s state of emergency allowing police extra powers to conduct searches and put people under house arrest.

France coach Didier Deschamps, whose side were playing Germany in an international friendly when the Stade de France was targeted by suicide bombers, says November’s attacks evoked “very strong emotions”.

“We lived through some tragic moments,” he said. “So it will remain with us, even if with time we can think about it a little less.

“Today to have zero risk doesn’t exist, sadly, but we have to go forward and these Euros have to be a festival of football and the festival has to be as beautiful as possible.”

Richard Walton, the Metropolitan Police’s former head of counter-terrorism, said the threat to Euro 2016 is “more acute than for any other international sporting event in history”.

With a reported 500,000 British fans among the seven million supporters in France, the British Foreign Office has warned that stadiums, fan zones and transport hubs are possible targets for attack.

Two English football fans were arrested after police used tear gas to disperse a brawl outside a pub in Marseille shortly before midnight on Thursday.

Police said one of the fans was arrested for assaulting a barman and the other for violent disorder, with one England supporter suffering a head injury after being hit across the face with a wooden chair.

England goalkeeper Joe Hart says players will adhere to the advice of security officials at the 24-team championship.

“We’re a team of footballers, but we’re a group,” he said. “We work together with the security and press officers.

“Everyone’s got their various jobs and I’m very confident on everyone completing them.”

France’s junior minister for sports, Thierry Braillard, said official fan zones are the only outdoor public spaces where screens will be installed, with bar and restaurant owners told not to host large outdoor TV broadcasts.

He added: “We can’t accept unorganised gatherings because police forces don’t have the means to secure them.”

Paris is one of 10 host venues, with games also taking place in Bordeaux, Lens, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Saint-Denis, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse.

Jean-Christophe Bouvier, defence secretary for the Lille region, says 200 security staff will be inside the city’s fan zone, with 3,400 police and military forces working each day and hundreds extra on call if needed.

President of the Lille region, Damien Castelain, said: “It’s a very secure place in the fan zone.

“It’s easier to secure one place like this one than have people going to several places where it would have been impossible to make people safe.”

Mat Bastard, Lille’s Euro 2016 ambassador, added: “If France win, it’ll be so, so good, but my first victory is everything is well and everyone has fun.”

The Euro 2016 draw
Group AGroup BGroup C
SwitzerlandSlovakiaNorthern Ireland
Group DGroup EGroup F
Czech RepublicItalyIceland
TurkeyRepublic of IrelandAustria

Alongside the terror threat, French authorities have also been forced to deal with extreme weather conditions and protests over labour law reforms.

Strikes in Paris could cause problems for supporters heading to the 80,000-capacity national stadium on Friday.

The national SNCF rail company said that one of the two main overland train lines linking the Stade de France in the capital’s northern suburbs to the city centre had two-thirds of its services wiped out because of strikes on Thursday, while six out of 10 were not running on the other.

The company is working on a fallback plan, while an underground Metro line to the stadium will have extra trains running.

President Francois Hollande said he would take “all necessary measures” to make sure transport strikes, due to roll into a 10th day on Friday, would not disrupt the tournament.

“Rest assured that public services will be provided and that the state will assume its full responsibilities,” he said.

Strikes are planned from Saturday on the national air carrier, Air France, while piles of rubbish have also gone uncollected.

France captain Hugo Lloris said: “I hope it won’t spoil the party because we have to show a great image of our country.”

France’s opener against Romania should avoid the bad weather that saw the River Seine burst its banks and rise to its highest level in more than 30 years.

England and Wales begin their campaigns further south on Saturday are also expected to avoid the worst of the thunderstorms.

Uefa says all 24 teams are in France, with Portugal – travelling in a plane bearing the name of legendary striker Eusebio – the last to arrive on Thursday.

Spain are hoping for a third successive title, but Germany are world champions and France were winners when they hosted the tournament in 1984.

Current national coach Deschamps captained Les Bleus to World Cup glory on home soil in 1998.

England are eyeing a first success at the ninth attempt, while Wales, Northern Ireland, Albania, Iceland and Slovakia all make their championship debut. BBC