Champions League final in Istanbul tests UEFA security plans after chaos in Paris last year
Manchester City fans cheers before the Champions League final soccer match between Manchester City and Inter Milan at the Ataturk Olympic Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey, Saturday, June 10, 2023. (AP Photo/Emrah Gurel)
Graham Dunbar , The Associated Press
Published Saturday, June 10, 2023 3:02PM EDT
ISTANBUL (AP) — The Champions League final on Saturday in Turkey is the biggest test of UEFA’s operations for major cup finals since the chaotic and near-fatal title game in Paris last year.
Just five weeks ago, UEFA detailed an overhaul of its big-game management after being widely blamed in a scathing report in February into security failures at Stade de France when Real Madrid played Liverpool last year.
In Istanbul on Saturday, UEFA’s changes seemed to be working on a warm, bustling but calm day as Manchester City and Inter Milan fans traveled from the city center to the 72,000-seat Atatürk Olympic Stadium in the western suburbs.
The journey of about 25-kilometers (15 miles) took more than two hours for some fans amid the bustling traffic, but supporters arriving at the stadium reported no serious issues 75 minutes before kickoff.
At one checkpoint, a cluster of national flags had been confiscated from fans. But police working at ticket and bag checks at the north end of the stadium allocated to Inter reported no major issues. Only national flags of the two teams were being allowed into the stadium.
The post-Paris promises included UEFA having its own security control team, working more actively with host city authorities, better liaison with fans before they traveled and more dedicated staff at stadiums. Police from Manchester also are in Istanbul working with the local forces.
Istanbul was also helped by not having a public transport strike, as Paris had last year which worsened an already poorly designed system for getting fans into the stadium. Local Turkish police also seemed to be treating English fans as welcome tourists.
French police used “weaponry” like tear gas and pepper spray against Liverpool supporters outside the stadium, the UEFA-appointed investigators said February in their 220-page report.
“The nation is excited,” Turkey’s elected member of the UEFA executive committee, Servet Yardımcı, told The Associated Press, “and we are very good at organizing these events.”
Fans traveling by metro train — on an advised, one-hour route of three connecting trains from the port neighborhood of Yenikapi, which hosted a free music festival — found a security barrier at the third station, İkitelli Sanayi.
Security guards working in front of head-high wire fences demanded proof of fans having digital tickets on a UEFA phone application to let them pass. Police watched from behind the fences.
The security filter was designed to stop ticketless fans arriving at the stadium and overloading capacity there, where more ticket and bag checks waited. Each team had a dedicated fan zone outside the stadium with DJs entertaining crowds.
Man City fans were asked to use shuttle buses from Yenikapi which were taking two or more hours to arrive though Istanbul's congested traffic.
By metro train and bus, fans arrived direct into the stadium compound without passing through local neighborhoods. That was a problem in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis last year where some fans were harassed and robbed after the game by local young men while walking to nearby transport stations.
The Champions League final is the fourth end-of-season cup final in 11 days for UEFA, and the overall operations so far were praised Saturday by Football Supporters Europe.
The FSE group, which is UEFA’s recognized advisor for fan issues, said efficient operations in and around the Prague stadium on Wednesday, where West Ham beat Fiorentina to win the Europa Conference League, stood out.
About 2,000 Turkish riot police were sent to Qatar for three months to help secure the 2022 World Cup, and the force’s vans were parked around the stadium Saturday.