367: The Champions League Final: information wars
The traumatising scenes outside the Stade de France in Paris before the Champions League final have left an indelible mark. Many of those caught up used social media to show what was happening in real time. The organisers seem to have immediately thought about the damage to their reputations.
In the days that have followed the Champions League final, the experience of fans has been detailed across the media. It was, however, clear from the outset that the organisers were focused on protecting their reputations.
The initial displays inside the stadium talked of a ‘security issue’ and the delay in kick-off being due to the ‘late arrival of fans’. Similar statements were issued on Twitter. That approach has set the tone for communications in the following days.
The initial emergency meeting excluded Liverpool as well as Real Madrid, who also faced challenges at their end of the ground.
The position of the French government has, in particular, sought to lay the blame for the issues on fans themselves, as well as Liverpool Football Club and their manager Jurgen Klopp. The comment that tickets had been forged ‘on an industrial scale’ was designed to shift blame away from the organisers. France is hosting several major sporting events in the coming months and years.
In making such statements, French ministers and others were playing on the historic perceptions of English football fans, invoking once more allegations that the club and the families of the victims have faced, and fought hard against, ever since Hillsborough.
UEFA has however, made the right move and commissioned an independent report into events at the final.
The critical part of UEFA’s announcement was contained in the final sentence of their release:
‘Evidence will be gathered from all relevant parties and the findings of the independent report will be made public once completed and upon receipt of the findings, UEFA will evaluate the next steps’.
Media reports have suggested that the report will be made public, but the statement only commits to the findings being made public. This could be an important distinction. If parties are to have any degree of faith in the findings, then its workings need to be shown.
LFC is already gathering its own evidence presumably so that it can be used in the Club’s submission to the report; however those who were there may want to submit evidence directly, as they are one of the ‘relevant parties’.
In their attempts to deflect blame, the organisers have already failed to protect their reputations. They have actually damaged their own reputations by giving little or no thought to impact on fans and their families. The language used is impersonal and focused on process, not people. The allegations being thrown about have no evidence. All this undermines them from the outset. They have adopted an approach of shouting loudly to drown out the voices of others. That will fail.
By announcing an inquiry, UEFA has done the easy part. An independent inquiry can be a huge benefit, but it depends on what is done with the findings and what impact they have.
Genuine change can enhance a reputation but only if those involved are ready to learn. The indications so far are not good.
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