The body would have tried to clear customs of the security unit led by a close friend of Alexander Ceferin, the boss of UEFA, during the Stade de France fiasco in May 2022, reveals an investigation by the “Guardian”.
More than a year later, the chaotic Champions League final at the Stade de France continues to cause a stir. Particularly within UEFA, the body in charge of European football, widely criticized in the press and beyond, in the same way as the French authorities, for its disastrous management of the evening of May 28, 2022, during which thousands of supporters, particularly English, had to endure interminable waiting, clashes caused by the police and other attacks around the stadium.
In June 2022, the body appointed an independent group of experts to investigate the debacle. In its conclusions, the cell mentions that UEFA has “main responsibility” in the fiasco, because it failed to supervise security operations around the Dyonisian enclosure.
However, when it is necessary to detail who was at fault among the body’s teams, the report incriminates the events division headed by Sharon Burkhalter-Lau, then UEFA director of operations (she has since left her position in May 2023 ), while minimizing the liability of the safety and security unit. This structure, led since 2021 by Zeljko Pavlica, a “close friend” of UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, would have been sidelined (“marginalized” according to the term used) during the events, specifies the document.
“Agreed strategy to protect the security unit”
In a note sent to UEFA general secretary Theodore Theodoridis and three other senior officials, and viewed by the Guardian, Sharon Burkhalter-Lau dismisses these alleged assertions provided by UEFA as “completely false and concerted”. Burkhalter-Lau blames Pavlica’s team for allegedly not taking part in several crucial meetings ahead of the event. In addition, no one would have provided observation feedback after the Coupe de France final, which was held in the same venue three weeks earlier.
In his testimony to the investigative committee – but not recorded in the final report – Pavlica said that on the night of the final he was in the VIP area in the hours before kick-off. He said he was only made aware of the brewing chaos when he was summoned to an emergency meeting at 8:45 p.m., when Ceferin made the decision to delay the start of the match. This, while several people attached to the Pavlica unit reported incidents as early as 5:19 p.m. in the unit’s dedicated WhatsApp group.
“I now understand that there was an agreed strategy to protect the security unit by stating that all safety and security matters would be communicated (to the French Football Federation, responsible for managing the security arrangement), via (the person in charge of) operations management, which places responsibility for any perceived errors or omissions on Tiziano Gaier, an official attached to the Burkhalter-Lau division. “Needless to say, this is completely false…” she wrote.
Suspicions of cronyism
Burkhalter-Lau questions the testimonies of Theodoridis and UEFA events manager Martin Kallen, arguing that Pavlica’s unit was in direct contact with the FFF and law enforcement. “Very surprised” by these testimonies, she maintains that Pavlica and her staff were fully integrated, with all other units concerned, in a complete and detailed system linked to the planning of the event, via weekly meetings, working visits at the Stade de France, and regular communication on the various organizational aspects.
Burkhalter-Lau’s accusations shine a spotlight on alleged cronyism within UEFA, with Pavlica and four other Ceferin associates in Slovenia all having been appointed to key positions in recent years. UEFA denies these accusations, speaks of “experienced professionals”. However, Pavlica’s security skills have been questioned by several industry experts.