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World Rugby acts after Marseille crowd issues

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World Rugby has announced a series of measures after thousands of fans struggled to gain entry to Marseille’s Stade Vélodrome for the start of the England v Argentina Rugby World Cup game on Saturday evening.

Thousands were crammed into a small space just outside the stadium ahead of kick-off in scenes reminiscent of the chaos that preceded the 2022 Uefa Champions League final at the Stade de France on the outskirts of Paris last year.

However, whilst Uefa initially suggested that fans were to blame for the situation that arose ahead of the Liverpool v Real Madrid final before backtracking later on, World Rugby, the global governing body of rugby union, was quick to take responsibility.

“Fans are the heartbeat of the tournament, and we would like to apologise to fans impacted by yesterday’s access challenges,” World Rugby said in a joint statement with the tournament’s organising committee yesterday (Sunday). “We are working hard to enhance the experience for all visiting Marseille for Rugby World Cup 2023.”

Anecdotally, many of the fans who were squeezed into the space just outside the Stade Velodrome blamed Marseille’s tram system, which was apparently overwhelmed ahead of the match.

Other reports indicated that too many supporters opted to use the same entry gate.

For future matches in Marseille, World Rugby said that there would be more volunteers to direct fans to the correct entry points, as well as improved communication around transport links to the venue and more food and drink options inside the stadium.

No injuries were reported in Marseille and all 63,118 seats were eventually filled. There were similar issues involving a smaller number of fans in Bordeaux ahead of the Ireland v Romania game earlier on Saturday, but World Rugby did not address that game directly in its statement.

Prior to the start of the Rugby World Cup, French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said that the country had “learned lessons” from last year’s Champions League final. There is extra scrutiny on France’s hosting capabilities ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games next year.