Rugby World Cup: France Boosts Security at Rugby World Cup. the Hosts Don’t Want Another Failure before Olympics

AP Photo/Christophe Ena
The Webb Ellis Cup is on display during a press conference in Paris, Monday, Sept. 4, 2023, ahead of the France 2023 Rugby World Cup.

With no room for mistakes ahead of next year’s Paris Olympics, French authorities pledged Wednesday to mobilize a record number of police officers to guarantee a smooth Rugby World Cup in the wake of the chaos outside the stadium that marred the 2022 Champions League final.

The tournament starts Friday at the same Stade de France where the security fiasco last year drew worldwide attention to heavy-handed policing, raising questions about how France manages security at big events.

Speaking at a news conference in Paris, French Interior Minister Gerard Darmanin said more than 5,100 police officers will be mobilized every match day during the tournament, and up to 7,500 at peak times, including Friday’s opening match between France and New Zealand and the final on Oct. 28.

“It’s unprecedented for a sporting event,” Darmanin said.

He added the mobile forces deployed Friday will be used at the stadium and to monitor tourist areas and public transport, as well as fan zones.

“On top, obviously, of the 1,210 police deployed in Paris and Seine-Saint-Denis to maintain security and of course, to fight against terrorism,” he said.

About 600,000 foreign visitors and 2 million spectators are expected to attend the competition hosted across France in nine cities.

Last year, tens of thousands of fans were held in increasingly crushed queues for hours before the Champions League final at the 75,000-capacity Stade de France, which is a key venue for the 2024 Paris Olympics. Many fans were fired on with tear gas by police before the game, which was delayed by nearly 40 minutes. After Real Madrid’s 1-0 victory, dozens of fans were robbed leaving the stadium by local residents in the impoverished Saint-Denis neighborhood.

Although UEFA was blamed for the near-disaster at the Champions League final, French senators said the fiaco was also because of mistakes by police, with “malfunction at every stage” before, during and after the game. French police have also been repeatedly criticized for their violent tactics during the yellow vests protests and, more recently, during a wave of demonstrations against the rise of the retirement age.

French Sports Minister Amélie Oudéa-Castéra, however, praised the “considerable progress we’ve made over the past year.”

“We have learned from the difficult events we went through and implemented a whole series of improvements,” she said.

In their report, senators pointed to the poor handling of fans ahead of the Champions League final that created a bottleneck near the Stade de France.

“The pathways to the Stade de France, which led to the difficulties we experienced, have been perfectly revised,” Darmanin said.

He added that all of the Rugby World Cup teams will benefit from the protection of elite police forces during their stay in France. Also, an anti-drone system will be deployed in and around stadiums, while teams’ training camps and match venues will be subjected to an overflight ban.

In addition, video protection systems will be reinforced, with a dedicated budget of 4.1 million euros ($4.4 million), including the purchase of 550 cameras in 29 cities and towns.

“That zero delinquency philosophy will continue right through to the Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games next summer,” Darmanin said, adding that more than 4,000 people had been arrested in recent months during operations in the area where the Stade de France is located.

Darmanin said the increase in police forces will not only be an asset during the Rugby World Cup and the Olympics, but also remain in the long term with the aim to “eradicate” petty crime.

“The events should be a security heritage,” he said.