Hundred days before Euro 2016, France readies for influx of fans amid security concerns

Paris: With little more than three months to go before one of the year's biggest football tournaments kicks off, signs of France's preparation are popping up across the country.

Volunteers are signing up to welcome visitors in the southern port city of Marseille, the Euro 2016 mascot - Super Victor - has started appearing at events in Nice and Toulouse has picked the location of its fan zone.

All three cities are among the 10 locations that will host the tournament's 51 games, which will take place from June 10 to July 10.

The event is expected to draw 2.5 million fans to the stadiums, including 1 million foreign visitors. The organizers predict this year's tournament will outpace Euro 2012, co-hosted by Ukraine and Poland, which drew 1.4 million fans.

France is gearing up to host Euro Championships. AFP

France is gearing up to host Euro Championships. AFP

A study overseen by France's sports ministry shows the event generating 1.2 billion euros (1.3 billion dollars) in economic activity, including 800 million euros in the stadiums and fan zones. Stadium renovations have already mobilized 20,000 jobs and some 94,000 people are expected to take part in the event organization.

But even as preparations go forward, organizers and the French government are acutely aware of the heightened security concerns after a series of terrorist attacks in and around Paris that targeted, in part, the Stade de France stadium. One hundred and thirty people died in the attacks.

Leading French politicians, including Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, who will have a hand in organizing security for the Euro 2016, have repeatedly said that the risk of a terrorist attack is extremely high. France recently prolonged a national state of emergency, in place since the November 13 attacks, until May.

"We are doing everything to ensure that this great event takes place in the best conditions, and that the social dimension isn't overshadowed by its context," Cazeneuve said in November, announcing additional security measures for the games, including video surveillance and private security agents - in addition to the 120,000 police and soldiers already deployed in France.

Despite concerns that fan zones - spots to watch the games outside, often on large screens - would be the most difficult to secure, many local authorities have pledged to go forward. The mayor of Toulouse, Jean-Luc Moudenc, said his city's plans would go forward with state support for additional security.

"We don't want to have delusions of grandeur," Moudenc told France's 20 Minutes. "After November 13, the important thing was to bring together all the conditions in terms of safety."

That goal seems to have been largely fulfilled, and the country is slowly becoming accustomed to continuing normal life under the new security regime. A US rock band whose concert was interrupted by the attacks recently returned to Paris to finish their set, and while their were at least four layers of security at the concert venue, the event went off without a hitch.

For many fans, the most palpable effect will be longer-than-usual waits. Some sports enthusiasts already got a taste of the increased security during a rugby match between France and Italy in February where the police presence was high and fans were told to come early.

For Euro 2016, Sports Minister Patrick Kanner has said that it will be challenge, but he has also pointed out that three suicide bombers who tried to enter the Stade de France stadium on November 13 didn't succeed.

Kanner was in the stadium that evening, watching France's friendly international against Germany with President Francois Hollande, and he said that "shocking" incident had given France a chance to prepare.

"Very concretely, the fans and spectators should know that it will take a bit of time to enter the stadiums," Kanner said on broadcaster France Info, adding that similar precautions were put in place for the London and Beijing Olympic Games. "Entering a stadium isn't like entering one's own house."


Updated Date: Mar 01, 2016 17:51 PM

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