Gavin Mortimer

    Were Liverpool fans sexually assaulted at the Stade de France?

    Were Liverpool fans sexually assaulted at the Stade de France?
    Police spray tear gas at Liverpool fans at the Stade de France (Photo: Getty)
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    The shambles at the Stade de France on Saturday night took a sinister turn on Wednesday as allegations emerged of incidents of sexual assault committed against supporters by gangs of local youths.

    What unfolded outside France’s national stadium on Saturday evening as Liverpool and Real Madrid met inside in the final of the Champions League has dominated the news in France ever since. Most of the criticism for what is seen as a national humiliation is directed at Gérald Darmanin, the Minister of the Interior, who since Saturday evening has insisted that Liverpool supporters were predominantly to blame for the trouble. On Wednesday he received the indirect support of his boss, Emmanuel Macron, via his official spokeswoman, Olivia Grégoire, who assured reporters the president is ‘totally’ behind his beleaguered minister.

    In the footballing world, when a struggling manager receives a vote of confidence from the club owner he is normally sacked within the fortnight. That is unlikely to happen to Darmanin, not with the first round of the legislative elections taking place on Sunday week. Macron’s new government is already embroiled in one ministerial controversy, the allegations of rape levelled last week at Damien Abad. In the short term the president will do all that he can to protect Darmanin.

    But does Darmanin need protecting from himself first and foremost? His handling of the debacle has turned a drama into a crisis, antagonising the British, astonishing the media and angering many police officers who are openly contradicting his assertion that Liverpool fans were the source of the trouble on account of the high number of forged tickets they carried. Even the country’s intellectuals are pondering the signification of the ignominy, a sure sign that the national psyche is bruised.

    On Wednesday Le Figaro published online a report claiming there were several instances of spectators being sexually assaulted outside the ground. A police officer on duty is quoted as saying: ‘What went on was crazy… I saw women having their breasts touched, they had their bags ripped away’. The officer said those responsible were gangs of young men from the area.

    Le Figaro also cites testimonies from Spanish and English supporters, who grouped together in defensive circles to protect the women among them. One Spaniard told the paper that the youths ‘molested minors’ and he saw one girl in tears after being groped.

    At a press conference on Wednesday Marine Le Pen called on Darmanin to resign, accusing him of suffering from ‘Cologne syndrome’. That barb will hurt. Few have forgotten what unfolded at Cologne on New Year’s Eve in 2015, when hundreds of young women were groped and assaulted by men, many of whom had recently arrived in Germany after Angela Merkel threw open Europe’s borders to an estimated one million refugees and migrants. The outrage grew when the Mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, suggested women should in future modify their behaviour to avoid a repetition.

    According to Le Pen, Darmanin continues to blame the English fans because he’s in denial, ‘despite all the evidence, [about] acts of violence as soon as they are committed by immigrants’. Last year Darmanin mocked Le Pen in a TV debate for being ‘soft’ on Islam; she’s waited patiently for her revenge.

    The left-wing La France Insoumise also defended Liverpool fans against Darmanin’s claims of ‘industrial’ forgery, accusing him of ‘lying’, and predicting that this is what awaits France in the next five years of Macron’s presidency.

    Darmanin and the sports minister, Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, will be questioned on Wednesday evening by the Senate, which is dominated by the centre-right Republicans. Their senate president, Bruno Retailleau, has urged Macron to intervene because the crisis has become ‘grave’, calling into question ‘the image of France in the world’. That was a foretaste of what the interior minister can expect during his interrogation.

    Will Darmanin stick to his line about Liverpool being to blame or will he offer a watery mea culpa? Either way his reputation is unlikely to ever fully recover from this fiasco, and his relegation will only be a matter of time.

    Written byGavin Mortimer

    Gavin Mortimer is a British author who has lived in Paris for 12 years. He writes about French politics, terrorism and sport.

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