Rotting garbage line the streets. Railway workers on strike and airline pilots on the verge. High alert for terrorism. Public brawls involving locals and dozens of visiting fans. It doesn’t quite sound like the perfect venue for Europe’s biggest soccer tournament but that’s the stage for Euro 2016, which kicks off Friday in France.
Ten venues across the country will play host to 24 teams — divided into six groups of four teams each — who will play a total of 51 matches, culminating in the final on July 10. The opening match will be held in the Stade de France stadium in the suburbs of Paris between host France and Romania.
As the monthlong sports festival kicks off, a lot of the focus is not on the game. Instead, ongoing labor strikes against the French government’s proposed changes to labor laws and terror threats are hogging a lot of the limelight.
Waste treatment workers are among the public sector employees on strike, leading to the streets of Paris being lined with uncollected garbage that is rotting, which in turn has prompted the government to pull private rubbish collection companies into service.
“All the rubbish will be cleared up, starting now, today. It will take a few days obviously,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said Friday. About 50 trucks were dispatched overnight and 30 more on Friday morning, she elaborated. About 3,000 tons of waste was left uncollected in Paris alone, according to reports.
A train workers’ strike was in its ninth day Thursday and they threatened fresh disruptions Friday that would affect services from Paris to the suburb where the stadium is located. Despite repeated calls for services to be restored, train driver Berenger Cernon, secretary general of the CGT union — which is spearheading the strikes — at the Gare de Lyon in Paris, said the strike would continue.
“We did not decide that the Euro will take place on this date. There is a social movement going on now, the reorganization [of labor] continues, the labor law continues. We want the negotiations on the collective agreements be open for everybody. So yes, clearly this will disturb the Euro [tournament] and we will continue the strike,” Cernon said.
French Environment Minister Segolene Royal appealed for an end to the strikes ahead of the tournament, saying, “France’s pride is at stake.” Transport Minister Alain Vidalies, meanwhile, said the government may use “every tool available” to allow fans to travel to the match venues, including forcing striking rail employees to go back to work, if necessary.
President François Hollande called on French citizens’ sense of responsibility toward their country Thursday, while also saying he would take “all the measures that are necessary” for the tournament to proceed smoothly.
It is “necessary that those who are taking part in actions, or who are organizing them should also shoulder their responsibility ... so that this great event can be a shared popular festival,” Hollande said.
Pilots of Air France also have called for a four-day strike starting Saturday after negotiations over salaries broke down Thursday. More than 1.5 million foreign fans are expected to visit the country to watch the matches. However, the airline said it expected 70 to 80 percent of its flights to operate Saturday.
Security is another concern weighing on the French. Seven months after the November terror attacks in Paris, the country is still in a state of high alert and a French citizen was arrested in Ukraine in May for plotting terror attacks in France during the Euro tournament.
On Thursday night, a brawl broke out in Marseille — it will host an England vs. Russia match Saturday — between locals and British fans. Riot police arrived on the scene and broke up the scuffle; two British fans were arrested. Marseille was also the scene of soccer-related violence, involving English fans, in 1998 when France hosted the World Cup.