PARIS — French sports minister Patrick Kanner praised security officials at the Stade de France for keeping their nerves when faced with the attacks that hit Paris last week, saying Tuesday that a major tragedy had been avoided.
The Stade de France was packed with 79,000 fans when three attackers blew themselves up outside the venue, killing a bystander. There also were several dozen injuries.
Kanner, who attended the friendly game between France and Germany on Friday, said the decision to keep spectators inside and let the match continue after the blasts was decisive "because a Heysel-type panic could have occurred."
Kanner referred to the former Heysel stadium in Brussels where 39 people died during fan violence at the 1985 European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus.
"The tragic events (at Stade de France) had a limited impact in terms of human losses because of the great professionalism and the composure of the teams working at the stadium," Kanner said, after visiting the venue along with justice minister Christiane Taubira and secretary of state for sports Thierry Braillard.
It's still unclear why the attackers blew themselves up outside the stadium after the game had started, with most of the fans already inside. At least one of the bombers tried to get in, despite not having a ticket, but was turned away, said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to publicly discuss the investigation.
"In any case, when someone comes to a stadium carrying bombs to blow himself up, it's with the purpose of killing," Kanner said. "We want to thank all those who saved 80,000 people, sometimes by putting their lives on the line."
In Brussels 30 years ago, Liverpool fans broke into an adjacent section of the Heysel stadium holding Juventus supporters. In the ensuing chaos, victims were either trampled or suffocated to death as they tried to flee the violence. Others died when a retaining wall collapsed.
The match controversially went ahead, allowing authorities to restore a semblance of order in the chaos and arrange a relatively peaceful departure of the fans of both clubs.
Heysel has since been completely rebuilt and renamed Roi Baudouin stadium, hosting matches at the European Championship in 2000.
While the explosions at the Stade de France claimed only one of the fatalities, at least 129 people died in a string of co-ordinated attacks in Paris on Friday evening.
The attacks, which occurred less than a year after gunmen killed 17 people at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices and in a kosher supermarket, has raised questions about France's ability to safely host next year's European Championship.
Former France great Just Fontaine has suggested his country should no longer stage the tournament, its biggest sporting event since the 1998 World Cup.
"This is misplaced criticism," Kanner said. "We have shown that we are capable of securing our stadiums, although we will draw lessons (from what happened) to go further and guarantee the security of fans attending the 51 Euro games."
According to Kanner, about one million people will travel from abroad during the June 10-July 10 tournament. He said security measures will be increased, "but there is no discussion today about stopping this great popular party that the 2016 Euro will be."
Kanner was also adamant that the attacks should not have an impact on Paris' bid to host the 2024 Olympics. He said IOC president Thomas Bach "was extremely reassuring" in insisting that there would not be any repercussions for the French candidacy.
"In any case we will be at the Lima rendez-vous on Sept. 17, 2017," said Kanner, referring to the IOC vote for the 2024 host. Paris is competing with Rome and Los Angeles, along with Budapest, Hungary and Hamburg, Germany to stage the games.
Samuel Petrequin, The Associated Press