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Leagues: UEFA Champions League

MP demands retraction of ‘smears’ against Liverpool fans

London (AFP) – UK ministers must press UEFA and the French government to “retract the attempts to smear” Liverpool fans over the chaotic scenes at the Champions League final, lawmakers heard on Monday.

European football’s governing body UEFA last week apologised to spectators over their “frightening” experience before the match in Paris and has also commissioned an independent review.

Thousands of Liverpool fans with tickets had to wait for hours to enter the ground on May 28, with police using tear gas and pepper spray on the crowds.

Some supporters said they feared being crushed after small openings were used to filter the queues in the run-up to the match, which Real Madrid won 1-0.

UEFA and French officials initially blamed late arrivals and fans with fake tickets or without tickets for the chaos at the game.

MPs demanded ministers put further pressure on UEFA and the French government, with sports minister Nigel Huddleston pledging to raise concerns with his French counterpart this week.

Opposition Labour MP Ian Byrne, who represents a Liverpool constituency, told the House of Commons he was at the game in Paris and also at Hillsborough in 1989, where a crush led to the deaths of 97 Liverpool fans.

He said without the “magnificent efforts” of Liverpool supporters, the chaos could have led to a disaster worse than Hillsborough.

“Last Saturday in Paris I witnessed first-hand the shambolic stadium management and the most hostile policing environment at a sporting event I have ever witnessed,” he said.

“I watched children getting pepper-sprayed and pensioners getting tear-gassed, turnstiles and exits shut while thousands queued for hours waiting to attend the blue riband football occasion of the season.

“We were treated like animals for wanting to watch a game of football and then, shamefully, the smears and lies straight from the Hillsborough playbook were used by the authorities to avoid accountability (for) the horrific events.”

– Hillsborough inquest –

A coroner’s inquest found in 2016 that the victims at Hillsborough were unlawfully killed.

The inquest’s jury concluded that policing decisions “caused or contributed” to the deaths, and amounted to “gross negligence”.

Byrne asked the government to make representations to UEFA for a “full and truly independent inquiry” into the events outside the Stade de France on May 28.

He also asked Huddleston whether he would “call on the French government and UEFA to retract the attempts to smear Liverpool Football Club supporters without any verifiable evidence produced to substantiate the claims”.

Huddleston welcomed UEFA’s commissioning of an independent investigation and their apology to fans, adding that the French minister for sport had also commissioned a review of the delivery of the event.

“These investigations must establish the facts so the authorities can learn lessons from the event and ensure we do not see scenes like this ever again,” he said.

Labour’s Lucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary, described the final as “chaotic, scary and atrociously managed”, saying it cast doubt on France’s ability to host the Rugby World Cup in 2023 and the Olympic Games the following year.

“Questions also remain over UEFA’s independent review as the chair (former Portuguese government minister Tiago Brandao Rodrigues) is a close friend of the president (Aleksander Ceferin),” she said.

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