But there are more ahead, as leadership scandals, ugly public disputes and mounting security concerns have cast a cloud over French sports that never seems to lift. The soccer federation’s leadership problems, for example, extend far beyond one man. The same is true for rugby. And, most disconcertingly for Oudéa-Castéra, she is still facing withering criticism for her role in the response to security problems at last year’s Champions League final.
That game took place only eight days after Oudéa-Castéra took office. But her comments in the aftermath of the match, which descended into chaos after organizational and policing failures saw thousands of Liverpool fans trapped in dangerously small areas, cast her as a central figure in a near disaster, and continue to shadow her to this day. That no one died in the crushes outside the stadium gates, investigators later concluded, was “a matter of chance.”
Much of the criticism of Oudéa-Castéra is linked to a specific claim that she and France’s interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, made publicly: that 30,000 to 40,000 fans with fake tickets, or without tickets at all, were partly to blame for the crowd problems.
Oudéa-Castéra said she had merely relied on numbers supplied to government officials at the time, and in an interview said that she still believes the figures, in the context they were provided to her, remain true. But the anger, particularly among Liverpool fans, shows no sign of abating. Hours after she sat for an interview in her office last week, a banner was raised in the stands at a Champions League game in Liverpool — a rematch of the final with Real Madrid — that featured cartoon images of Oudéa-Castéra and Darmanin with long noses, captioned with the French word for liars.
“Can I ask you a question?” Oudéa-Castéra said, stopping the interview at one point. “It always feels a little bit like we have not apologized.” She has done so repeatedly, she said, writing letters to Liverpool’s chairman and maintaining a regular dialogue with him about the final. She says that she recognizes her initial comments were particularly sensitive for Liverpool fans since some in Paris that day had survived the 1989 Hillsborough disaster.
That is why, she said, she has sought to make amends in the nine months since the game. It is also why the ongoing criticism stings. “For me it’s very sensitive because I cannot admit people say that we have lied,” Oudéa-Castéra said. “It’s not true.”