The challenge to protect the Euro 2016 soccer tournament from attack is formidable, to say the least.
France has already boosted security measures in and around the Stade de France for the first international soccer match to be played at the stadium since the Paris attacks by militant Islamists on Nov. 13 that killed 130 people.
At the stadium on Tuesday, fans observed a minute of silence before the friendly match between France and Russia. They stood in silence in memory of victims of last week's bomb attacks in Brussels that killed 32 people.
“I was in Stade de France in fact during the attack,” says Pascal Boniface. “I was not too far from Francois Hollande and we only learned at halftime of the game what was going on because during the game there was no news and cellphones were not working in the stadium that holds 80,000."
As director of France's Institute of International Relations and Strategy, Boniface is working with authorities to prepare for the European 2016 soccer championships this summer. He spoke to PRI's The World on Tuesday. An edited version of the interview follows.
Is there any specific evidence of a credible threat against the Euro championships that you know of?
“There’s no evidence but everybody fears the worst because you’ll have all the cameras, the world will be watching the Euro 2016, everyone wants to be there, and so it’s a specific target.
“Anytime you have a worldwide sports event, it’s a would-be target for terrorism. ... There will be many more people securing the stadium and access to it, and more security information. Of course to be frank, the security leaders won’t say in advance what they are doing because it’s secret, in order to be efficient. But security will be much higher than was planned at the beginning, even though since the beginning, security was a number one goal.”
“As you know, there is no zero risk in this world. Anybody could go into the subway in any place, in any city. It’s easier to make an attack than it is to prevent an attack. So of course there is no absolute security. But in both the Tour de France and Euro 2016, those who are responsible for security feel comfortable that they are in a position to prevent any attacks. But of course nobody can say there will be no attacks any place in the world.”
Just how important is Euro 2016 for France at this time?
“Euro 2016 is very important for France to back up its bid to be a host country for the Olympic Games in 2024. It will reinforce the application by France to host the Olympics when the decision is made in 2017. And, as you know, in France, the morale is not very high. So a good Euro, and a good performance by our national soccer team, will reinforce the spirit of the nation and give more confidence to French people.
“Some people have proposed canceling the Euro 2016 tournament because it’s too dangerous. But if you do that, you could not do anything in France. You’d have to cancel concerts, demonstrations in any places people are gathering. So the best decision and the only one to take is to say ‘No’ to fear and to keep the Euro 2016 just as is, and to improve security measures.”
Will you be at the Euro 2016 opening match?
“I hope so. I am still waiting for my tickets, but I hope that I will be there.”