The UEFA Champions League (UCL) is an annual football event where top-tier European football clubs play against each other in several competitive rounds, with the eventual winner being crowned in a match final. The UCL is regarded as the most prestigious football tournament, second only to the FIFA World Cup, it is therefore a competition that football fans hold very dear to their hearts. For a club, winning the UCL means a year’s bragging right for its fans, players and administrators.
This year’s (2022) final match was held between Liverpool and Real Madrid in Paris, at the Stade de France, after the venues had been shifted twice earlier. The final was originally scheduled to be played at the Allianz Arena in Munich, but it was later changed to the Krestovsky stadium in Saint Petersburg, Russia. However, the Russian invasion of Ukraine happened, and the event had to be moved once again on an emergency basis to Paris after the European football body (UEFA) banned Russia from all of its activities.
A Chaotic Final
The final match in Paris took place on the evening of Saturday the 28th of May, and it was quite a spectacle – not just because of the action-packed match, but also for the incidents that occurred outside of the stadium gates.
A large number of football fans (about 40,000) had been left stranded outside unable to access the stadium despite having purchased match tickets. To make things worse, they ended up getting teargassed by the police.
What happened? It appears that the event got plagued by a case of massive ticketing fraud.
Here is a Quick Rundown of how the Situation Played Out
6:30pm Paris – Fans had started queuing up at the stadium gates as they looked forward to viewing the biggest football event of the 2021/2022 European season. A large number of Liverpool fans turn up at the venue, and this causes the stadium security and matchday officials to be suspicious. The concern is that some of the tickets could be fake (or even duplicates), and since each ticket is assigned to a seat number, the fear is that people with original tickets could be robbed of their seats. The security to step up the scrutiny efforts of the tickets.
Luckily for them, Liverpool Football Club (FC) had provided their fans with physical tickets which made it possible to do a physical inspection. Unluckily for them, the tickets having no automated physical anti-copy feature meant that the inspection process would be time-consuming and involve a lot of guess work. This inspection process meant that letting people into the stadium would take an unreasonable length of time, which would then cause the crowd to be understandably agitated as they wait in an increasingly elongating queue.
The situation soon deteriorated with television footage showing young men jumping over fences into the stadium. The police fearing a stampede situation which could lead to death as have happened during football matches in times past decided to intervene by unleashing a massive teargas charge on the crowd (which included people with disabilities, as well as sets of family members of different age ranges – from the elderly to infants).
The debacle was such an embarrassment that it forced France’s minister for sports to issue a statement. Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said that the country recognises the need to improve on the organisation of tricky matches of this nature. Speaking to the media after a meeting with UEFA and representatives of the Police, the Minister implied that Real Madrid had transported their fans in organised coaches, whereas Liverpool on the other hand had left their fans to their own vices, thus the reason why they bore the majority of the match-day inconvenience.
A rebuttal from a UK government spokesperson however said that they were well-informed that “many Liverpool fans travelled to Paris in good time to support their team in one of biggest matches of the season, and were hugely disappointed at how they were treated.”
Speaking further on the scandalous situation, the French interior minister in a statement said that he regretted the “disorganised welcome” that the Liverpool fans received. He went further to blame it on supposed counterfeit tickets that went on sale at an industrial scale, resulting in the chaotic scenes witnessed on the night of the finals. “We deplore the lack of organisation in the way the English fans were received,” Minister Gerald Darmanin told the press on Monday.
In the UK, a Downing Street spokesperson said that the incidents were “deeply upsetting and concerning.” He also suggested the need for an investigation into the issue.
UEFA on its part has commenced an independent report into the events, and it is expected to “examine decision-making, responsibility, and the behaviours of entities involved in the final.”
According to Minister Darmanin, as much as 70% of the tickets presented by about 60,000 Liverpool fans were fake. He further revealed that whereas 97% of the Real Madrid fans had made it to their seats by the match kick-off time, only about 50% of Liverpool fans had occupied the 19,618 seats that the club had been allocated. It is believed that the ticketing debacle was a factor in delaying the start of the match by over 30 minutes.
The Chaos was Preventable
The truth of the matter is that this situation of fake tickets was a very avoidable one. It is understandable that the venue organisers had barely 3 months to prepare for the event due to the last-minute change, it is however debatable that this was enough grounds to absolve the tournament organisers of culpability in the fiasco that played out.
A burgeoning school of thought is that UEFA could have prevented this by resorting to the use of anti-copy technology to ensure that fans did not get ripped off. As mentioned earlier, while most match tickets in recent times have gone fully digital, Liverpool FC still issued its fans with physical tickets. The club is known to be one which regards the Champions League trophy as the most important silverware (even above the English Premiership), it is therefore understandable that they urged UEFA to avail their fans with physical tickets as a way of letting them have physical souvenirs that they can keep to serve as a reminder of their presence at the year’s biggest game.
A situation like this can result in a positive angle for football governing bodies like UEFA with the use of state-of-the-art technologies like the deep-tracing AI solution from Cypheme. If deep-tracing technology had been activated on the match tickets, this bizarre situation would not have arisen in the first place; all a fan would have had to do would be to take a picture of the ticket that they intend to purchase with the camera of their smartphones, and they get an authentication result in less than 5 seconds. The Cypheme solution would seamlessly bridge the physical with the digital.
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