The Euro 2016 football competition kicks off in France on Friday and there are a suite of games scheduled for cities around France, including here in Lyon. Also scattered around France are the so-called ‘Fan Zones’. These are areas in the city center that will welcome thousands of supporters at a time to watch the matches broadcast live onto big screens, whether being played locally or elsewhere across the country.
For most of the big cities in France and for most of the supporters who cannot get tickets for the stadiums, these fan zones will be the center of attention. Certainly here in Lyon the fan zone installed on the Place Bellcour will be ground zero for fans from around Europe who will descend on the city to watch their teams in action or just enjoy the spring sunshine with thousands of their closest and freshly-minted drinking buddies.
These fan zones, though, will also be ground zero for terrorism. While no one wants to see a terrorist attack during the tournament and no one wants to imagine the impact that such an attack might have after the last two years of troubles here in France, I can’t help but conclude that thousands of people packed into a fenced-off square in the middle of a city is exactly the sort of soft target that would be attractive to terrorists. While the risk of an attack is impossible to calculate, I think it is real and it is a big reason why I won’t be heading to the fan zone to watch a football match this coming month.
It’s not as if the authorities are not preparing to respond to an attack. This evening on the news one of the lead stories was about a drill held yesterday evening on the Place Bellecour where an attack was simulated on the fan zone. As the media and various important people watched some fake terrorists attacked some fake fans and some fake police responded in the best fake fashion.
Yet, as the report ended, I turned to Cécile and commented on how incredibly unrealistic this scenario was.
For one thing, the fan zone was essentially empty. There might have been a dozen or so ‘fans’ on the Place Bellecour, about the same number of police, and a handful of terrorists. On a typical match night there will be thousands, even ten thousand people packed into the square and any attack by a suicide bomber (this was the drill that was in the report) will injure dozens and hundreds more will be injured either by the blast or in the blind panic to escape a fenced-in fan zone. The terrorists in this circumstance will either be dead – suicide bombings do tend to end up with dead terrorists after all – or waiting for the eventual panic. Indeed, a textbook al-Qaeda tactic has always been a blast followed by a follow up blast or attack on the fleeing surivivors. Think Bali, or Jakarta, or any number of attacks in Europe, the Middle East, or South Asia.
In short, the impression I got from the televised drill was that it was meant to make the media, the viewers, and the VIPs on hand feel better about the fan zone and the security there. It would do little to help address the very real possibility of an attack or deal with the aftermath of the attack that may come.
Of course, I could be getting all fearful for nothing. I hope I am. But I can’t help but think that something is going to happen and people are going to get hurt in the next eight weeks here in France, and I don’t think the people or the government are ready to deal with it when it does. I’ll be avoiding the fan zone here in Lyon, and I will be telling anyone who asks if I’ll be joining them there to do the same.