PM finally breaks silence over Champions League PR disaster

With calls for his resignation and criticism filling column inches, prime minister António Costa has finally ‘faced the cameras’ and agreed that Porto’s hosting of the Champions League final last weekend “manifestly did not go well”. 

Yet he stopped short of accepting any blame.

Says Expresso, the PM “did not consider there were failings on the part of the government, apart from it being evident that what happened cannot be considered an example, but a lesson”.

According to the leader of the Socialist party, there were “two distinct situations”: one had to do with what had been arranged with UEFA – the arrival of 12,000 fans ‘in a (sanitary) bubble’ transported from the airport to the stadium and back again for their flights home. The other had to do with “what can be explained by the opening of the frontiers”…

“What was said (by the government, pre-match) was nothing false”, Mr Costa insisted. “Did it go perfectly? No it did not. There were at least 20% of people who came with tickets to the game but who did not respect the bubble because they decided to come early”.

And this is how he neatly side-stepped the criticism from President Marcelo, who said on Saturday, “it’s not possible to say (the fans) are coming in a bubble to attend a sporting fixture and then there is no bubble… it’s just not possible”.

In Mr Costa’s mindset, the bubble existed, it simply didn’t encapsulate all the fans – and none of that was his government’s fault.

“You cannot confuse fans that arrived on charter flights and tourists who travelled to Portugal”, he said.

In one respect, the PM of course has ‘a point’. But the fact that these tourists were all wearing football shirts, drinking heavily, singing songs, chanting and occasionally throwing chairs at each other also shows they were not ‘typical tourists’ of the kind Portugal generally accommodates. 

Here again, Mr Costa had an answer: the final was planned at a point where Portugal’s frontiers were closed. No-one could not have foreseen that by the time it arrived, they would be open.

“We cannot want tourists and then say we don’t like tourists…” he retorted.

It remains to be seen how well this ‘non-apology’ goes down. Politically the whole weekend has been hugely damaging.

Former health secretary Adalberto Campos Fernandes – a man whose tenure was marked by sincerity – used the ‘bubble’ terminology to say what happened over the weekend was that “the bubble of confidence burst”, sending a “veritable aerossol over national territory”.

Fewer people now are wearing masks in the street, he told SIC. Adhesion to the vaccine is falling. People see double standards.

In Mr Campos Fernandes’ opinion, it’s time now to simplify restrictions; alter the risk matrix (to stop all the stop-start measures affecting the economy) and get people back on board.

This was very relevant commentary in that last weekend represented ‘an exception’ to all the rules.

Coming up later this month are traditional “Santos Populares” festivities. The country has no idea yet what the government will decide is ‘permitted’.

Mr Costa stressed in his comments to reporters today that in spite of the fact that Porto’s tourists did not respect the rules in place, rules ARE still in place.

The big question now, is will nationals see things this way.

Says Expresso, the government is due to announce “rules that will be in place for the month of June” later this week.

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