AP’s team quickly pivoted to document disorder outside the stadium; the coverage contributed to a growing scandal over French policing and organizational failures at one of the sporting world’s biggest annual events.
The Champions League soccer final is an enormous event, watched by several times more people than the Super Bowl. And this year’s edition — moved from Russia because of the war in Ukraine — served as a dress rehearsal for France, which will host the Olympics in 2024.
So when the scene descended into chaos Saturday before it even began, with police firing tear gas into a crowd of ticketholders trying to get into the country’s flagship stadium, it immediately became a major story with repercussions beyond the sports world.
Most news organizations, set up to cover the events inside the stadium, referenced the chaos but couldn’t show it.
The AP did better.
Global soccer writer Rob Harris and sports writer Steve Douglas took turns running from the press box to record video of the scene and interview fans. Paris photographer Christophe Ena and Tony Hicks, deputy director of international photos, did the same, getting images of fans trying to climb fences and turnstiles to get in. Douglas was briefly detained by a security guard who forced him to delete his footage (he quietly sent it to Harris before doing so); guards tried to detain Harris as well but he evaded them and found European football officials who intervened and got security to let journalists do their work.
The violent police response drew shock and condemnation, as did politicians’ efforts to pass the blame onto fans and local residents. The footage and interviews by Harris and Douglas showed that contrary to officials’ claims, the crowd included peaceful fans with tickets, including a woman with asthma struggling to breathe after the tear gas was fired.
Harris was interviewed by multiple French media outlets about what he witnessed, and he questioned French ministers about it, challenging their version based on what he saw at the scene. The coverage contributed to what is a growing political scandal over French policing and organizational failures at one of the sporting world’s biggest annual events.
Not to be overlooked, the AP crew also did a heck of a job covering the final match — Real Madrid beat Liverpool 1-0 — with Harris adding several live shots for clients of AP’s Global Media Services.
For coverage that set the AP apart at an event dripping with media, the team of Harris, Douglas, Ena and Hicks receives AP’s Best of the Week — Second Winner honors.