June 03, 2019

The Women’s World Cup (WWC) will take place in France, June 7-July 7, with matches being held in nine cities across the country. Teams representing 24 nations will take part in 52 matches during the competition; 1.3 million match tickets have been sold, and at least 100,000 foreign nationals are likely to travel to France to attend related events.

Any country hosting such a high-profile and well-attended international sporting event must contend with a multitude of associated security challenges, and in France, these are exacerbated by higher-than-usual threats from international terrorism and civil unrest for the region. However, France has substantial experience staging large-scale sporting events and possesses capable and professional security services. As a result, authorities will be able to mitigate most threats during the WWC such that the security environment will not substantially change for most travelers to France for the duration of the competition.


Threat Environment Overview

France is a low-threat destination, and petty crime is the most likely security issue that foreign visitors will face during the WWC. Pickpockets and scam artists are likely to operate at WWC matches, as foreign visitors are often easier targets due to language barriers, unfamiliarity with the environment, perceived wealth, and a lowered guard as a result of increased alcohol consumption. The threat from violent crime is low in France, and hooliganism associated with football matches is likely to have a minimal impact compared with games in the domestic men’s league where it is most prevalent. These threats can be mitigated by remaining alert and aware of your belongings when in public spaces, and not displaying obvious signs of wealth.


Civil Unrest a Possibility

Industrial action and protest movements are a regular feature of French society and periodically cause disruption in the form of reduced public services and heightened security around protest venues. Unions could attempt to leverage the large numbers of foreign visitors by organizing transport or utility strikes during the WWC in an attempt to force concessions from the authorities, though currently no specific industrial action is planned June 7-July 7; WorldAware will issue alerts in advance should any strikes be announced. Learn how to protect yourself in the event of civil unrest.


Yellow Vests

Of particular note is the Yellow Vests’ (Gilets Jaunes) ongoing anti-government protest movement. Yellow Vest activists have carried out weekly protests in cities across France since November 2018 that seek to cause maximum disruption in order to force a government response. Yellow Vest protests have in the past been characterized by unannounced road blockades and impromptu street gatherings, as well as property destruction and violence by a hardline group of core protesters. Police responded heavily during the height of the protests, employing riot-control measures including tear gas, water cannon, and baton rounds, often resulting in running battles between police and rioters in major French cities. Although bystanders are not directly targeted in these instances, they would face a significant collateral threat of physical harm if caught up in the protests.

Although participation in the weekly Yellow Vest demonstrations has been steadily decreasing, the movement has a proven ability to generate a surge in attendance for specific events. Yellow Vest activists could call protests at short notice during the WWC to demonstrate continued relevance, by causing significant disruption at such a high-profile event. This is most likely at WWC match venues with active Yellow Vest movements including Paris, Lyon, Montpellier, and Nice. Despite often being organized at short notice, Yellow Vest demonstrations are normally advertised on social media a few days prior; WorldAware will issue alerts for any events likely to attract significant participation.


Threat of Terrorist Acts

Islamist terrorists have conducted a number of high-profile attacks in France since 2015, and French authorities, as well as foreign ministries of other nations, maintain warnings regarding the enduring threat from international terrorism in France. Typical targets have included both security force personnel and civilians. The high-profile and international nature of the WWC means that the tournament could present an attractive target to terrorist groups or individuals; specific targets are likely to include stadiums, transport hubs, bars, restaurants, hotels, and other areas with high visitor traffic as a result of the tournament.

French authorities have enacted robust anti-terror laws since 2017, enhancing security services’ ability to deter and prevent terrorist attacks. One example is the ongoing “Operation Sentinelle,” which enables the French government to augment police units with armed military personnel at likely terrorist targets. French security services have proven effective at responding to and preventing international terrorist attacks. Nevertheless, while authorities have not declared any specific terrorist threats to the WWC, and security measures should prove capable of thwarting any that do arise, successful attacks by established cells or radicalized individuals are a distinct possibility during the competition. Travelers should remain vigilant and heed warnings from authorities and diplomatic missions, as they should at all times.


Event Security

France maintains a number of professional and capable security services including the National Police, the National Gendarmerie, and Municipal Police forces, with the proven ability to police large-scale events such as the WWC effectively. A visibly increased police presence and additional security measures will be implemented during the WWC. This is likely to include movement restrictions, bag screenings, and armed security personnel at stadiums, transport hubs, bars, restaurants, hotels, and other busy civilian locations associated with the WWC. Additionally, authorities have well-practiced security plans in place for likely threats associated with high-profile international sporting events, including civil unrest and terrorism as discussed above. As a result of the increased security measures, the threat environment is unlikely to change substantially in France during the WWC and will not require additional action from most individuals beyond the general advice of increased vigilance.

Key Takeaways

Football, or soccer, is extremely popular in France, and the country often hosts high-profile domestic and international matches, as well as other high-attendance sporting competitions. As such, the country regularly faces similar threats and challenges as those relating to the WWC, leading to a well-developed organizational and security infrastructure ready to be implemented for this occasion. Most recently, France was the venue for the 2016 UEFA European Championships, which saw comparable attendance and international visitor numbers. Furthermore, this tournament was held not long after the mass-casualty terrorist attacks in Paris, November 2015, when the threat environment was elevated above its current level. A combination of experience and highly proficient security services should be capable of meeting the security challenges that the 2019 WWC poses. Those attending the WWC should exercise a normal amount of caution but overall should not overestimate the associated security threats.


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