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opinion | Stade de France incidents: a good example of failed crisis communication

Random management of entry flows, attacks around the stadium, clashes with the police… the Champions League final, which opposed, on May 28, Liverpool to Real Madrid at the Stade de France turned nightmare, causing a crisis from which the Minister of the Interior struggled to get out, in the middle of the legislative campaign and two years from the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Paris, and the Rugby World Cup which takes place the year next. In question ? Obvious dysfunctions in terms of organizing access to the stadium and maintaining public order, but also inadequate crisis communication. What lessons in this last area can we draw from this bad sequence?

By questioning, from Saturday May 28, through a tweet, then on the TF1 newscast on Monday May 30, the presence of “30,000 to 40,000 Liverpool supporters either without tickets or with falsified tickets “, the Minister of the Interior, Gérald Darmanin, tried to get out of the crisis by blaming Liverpool supporters for the chaos which surrounded the Champions League final. In doing so, he made at least 4 major mistakes in crisis communication.

Total denial: a perilous strategy

The first is to have chosen a communication strategy based exclusively on denial. However, this strategy, which consists, during a crisis, in denying its responsibility and throwing the accusation on other stakeholders, is particularly perilous. In the age of social networks, continuous news channels and generalized transparency, it assumes, more than ever, to have nothing to reproach itself for, because it exposes those who employ it to subsequent revelations… which did not fail to happen!

The adoption of a communication strategy based on the multiplicity of causes, which would have consisted, for the Minister of the Interior, in recognizing the share of responsibility of the forces of order while widening the circle of those responsible (the UEFA, the Stade de France, the Liverpool supporters, the RATP, the strikers on line B of the RER, etc., would have been more credible and would have ultimately proved more profitable, because no one can doubt that such a failure in the organization of an event of this type cannot be the responsibility of the Ministry of the Interior alone.

Too quick a response

The second mistake made by the Minister of the Interior is to have confused reactivity and haste by almost immediately designating massive counterfeit fraud as the main source of the clashes that occurred during the Champions League final .

However, it is rare that a single factor is at the origin of a crisis of this magnitude. A minimum communication based on prudence and transparency, limiting itself to listing the potential factors of the difficulties and which would have led, for example, the Minister to request an administrative inquiry to shed light on the faults of the system, would have been, in a first time, more suitable. Wiser was the Minister of Sports, quickly asking the interministerial delegate for major sporting events, Michel Cadot, to submit a report “summarizing the main events and the lessons to be learned for the management of major sporting events”.

Too direct exposure to the crisis

By staging himself at the Stade de France Security PC through a tweet published on the evening of the match, Gérald Darmanin embodied the management of this crisis from the outset and personally. However, during a crisis, it is generally advisable not to expose oneself too quickly in order to leave room for manoeuvre. If the prefect of police had been the first spokesperson, the Minister of the Interior would undoubtedly have benefited from precious moments of reflection to examine the flaws in the system and thus better prepare his communication strategy.

A lack of empathy

One of the fundamental rules of crisis communication is to show empathy towards the victims. In this case, the videos and testimonies of Liverpool supporters who came with their families who were promptly turned away by the police, attacked by criminals near the stadium or who were unable to attend the match when they were provided with tickets in good and due form shocked public opinion all the more since the Minister of the Interior did not utter a word of apology towards them either before or during his intervention on the TF1 newscast . The President of the Republic made no mistake about it and moreover, if we are to believe the analyzes published in the press, asked him to make amends to defuse the anger of the English and the Spaniards… which he agreed to do so, but quietly, during his hearing in the Senate the next day!

If the operational dysfunctions which are the cause of this crisis will be examined by the Cadot report, the executive must also draw from this failed sequence the lessons necessary for its crisis communication and thus avoid that the image of France is, in the event crisis, tarnished in front of the whole world, particularly during the Rugby World Cup and then the Olympic and Paralympic Games which will be held in the next two years.

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