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FSF & FSF Cymru joint statement on fan safety

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FSF Cymru and the Free Lion’s fans’ embassy team have issued the following statement ahead of England vs Wales in Lens on Thursday:

Over the next couple of days, thousands of England and Wales fans will arrive in north-east France for our Euro 2016 Group B game in Lens. For many of us, this game will be the highlight of the tournament, at least of the group stage – a rare UK ‘derby’ match in the context of an international tournament.

It is a game that will be keenly contested on the pitch by two teams passionately supported from the stands, and it is a game that offers us an opportunity to show the rest of Europe the very best in football support.

Both nations’ fans will get behind their teams with fervour, but also with good humour and sportsmanship, and we believe that the interaction between the two sets of British supporters will be in sharp contrast to the scenes witnessed in Marseille, when England fans were brutally attacked by groups of Russian hooligans and by gangs of local youth.

We have a chance to demonstrate that following your team abroad doesn’t have to involve violence; it can be all about the game and the party.

Where we share concerns however is around the safety of our fans in the light of the Marseille experience, and the ability and willingness of the French police to provide a secure environment both in the city and in the stadium.

Many fans from both our nations will arrive into Lille, and will have already booked to stay there, on a day when that city hosts the Russia v Slovakia game. While we recognise that the large majority of Russian fans are peaceful, friendly and sporting, there remains the possibility that among their number will once again be those violent hooligan groups.

In Marseille we saw the police adopt a purely reactive approach, where they did not prevent the hooligan groups from forming up and preparing attacks on English fans, but reacted only after the event. Their subsequent use of tear gas was an indiscriminate tactic that impacted on innocent fans at least as much as it did on the attackers, and the fact that hardly any of the aggressors have been arrested leads us to fear that they may be at liberty to repeat their violence in Lille.

We are very appreciative of the efforts by the UK police delegations to attempt to advise and influence their French counterparts, and we also recognise that a number of England fans in particular owe their wellbeing to the personal intervention of UK police officers in extremely difficult circumstances.

Nonetheless, we would urge the host policing authorities as a matter of urgency to re-assess their methods and approach, and to prioritise preventative measures to ensure the protection of fans.

It is surely the first responsibility of a host country to guarantee as far as possible the safety of visitors, and while we do understand the extremely difficult security situation facing France both now and in recent history, and the pressures that has imposed on the French police, we believe that more can and must be done to prevent hooligan groups coming together to attack football supporters.

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