Greenpeace apologizes, local police slam Euro 2020 protester

By CIARÁN FAHEY for the Associated Press

MUNICH (AP) — Greenpeace has apologized and Munich police are investigating after a protester parachuted into the stadium and injured two people before Germany’s game against France at the European Championship.

A Greenpeace paraglider lands on the pitch before the Euro 2020 soccer championship group F match between France and Germany at the Allianz Arena in Munich, Germany, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader, Pool)

The protester used a powered paraglider with a motor attached to his back but lost control and hit overhead camera wires attached to the stadium roof, careening over spectators’ heads before he landed on the field ahead of Tuesday’s game. Debris fell on the field and main grandstand, narrowly missing France coach Didier Deschamps.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman on Wednesday slammed the Greenpeace stunt and said those behind it should reflect on what had happened.

“This was an irresponsible action that put people in great danger,” Steffen Seibert said, adding that it was a relief nothing more serious had happened.

Greenpeace spokesperson Benjamin Stephan apologized for the botched protest and the injuries caused.

“The paraglider didn’t want to go into the stadium yesterday. The pilot wanted to fly over the stadium while maintaining the necessary safety distance and only let a balloon float into the stadium with a message to Volkswagen, a main sponsor, with the demand that they get out of the production of climate-damaging diesel and gasoline engines quicker,” Stephan said.

“And there was a technical problem during the flight over — the hand throttle of the electric para motor failed, and because there was no more thrust, the glider suddenly lost height.”

Stephan said the pilot had no option but to make an emergency landing on the field after striking the steel cables attached to the stadium’s roof.

“We are in the process of clarifying this and are working with everyone and of course we take responsibility and would like to emphasize again that we’re very sorry, and that we apologize to the two people who were harmed,” Stephan said.

Bavaria interior minister Joachim Herrmann said snipers had the pilot in their sights.

“Because of the Greenpeace logo, it was decided not to have the snipers intervene,” Herrmann told the Bild tabloid. “If the police had come to another conclusion, that it was a terrorist attack, then the pilot might have had to pay for the action with his life.”

Seibert called on the organizers to “critically reflect on the purpose of such actions, which are about maximum spectacle for maximum PR-effect. This leads to such situations which potentially endanger the public.”

Local police had earlier blasted “such irresponsible actions in which a considerable risk to human life is accepted.”

Police spokesman Andreas Franken said the two men who were hurt both sustained light head injuries and have since been discharged from the hospital. They had been working at the game.

The 38-year-old pilot, who has an address in the southwestern state of Baden Württemberg, was unharmed. He was released late Tuesday but remains under investigation for a string of charges, including interfering with air traffic and bodily harm, as well as breaching the peace, Franken said.

Franken said security measures will be toughened for Saturday’s match between Germany and Portugal, but declined to give further details.

“Of course this will lead to us looking at our measures again and if necessary adapting them,” Franken said. “This must disturb and alarm us, and lead to us reviewing our concept.”

The protester’s parachute had the slogan “KICK OUT OIL!” and “Greenpeace” written on it.

The parachutist managed to land on the field and Germany players Antonio Rüdiger and Robin Gosens were the first to approach him. He was then led away by security stewards.

UEFA called the action “reckless and dangerous” and said “law authorities will take the necessary action.”

The German soccer federation also condemned the action.

“It could probably have turned out much worse,” Germany team spokesman Jens Grittner said.

UEFA and one of its top-tier tournament sponsors, Russian state energy firm Gazprom, have previously been targeted by Greenpeace protests.

In 2013, a Champions League game in Basel was disrupted when Greenpeace activists abseiled from the roof of the stadium to unfurl a banner protesting Russian oil and Gazprom, which sponsored the visiting team, German club Schalke.

Greenpeace later donated money to a charity supported by Basel, which was fined by UEFA for the security lapse.

UEFA defended its environmental credentials in a statement on Tuesday after the incident.

“UEFA and its partners are fully committed to a sustainable Euro 2020 tournament,” UEFA said, “and many initiatives have been implemented to offset carbon emissions.”