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PARIS – Striking workers rather than security threats are the pressing challenges for European Championship organizers right now, with less than two days until France hosts its biggest event since last year's wave of extremist attacks.
France is anticipating around 10 million visitors for the month-long soccer showpiece, which kicks off on Friday with the host nation hosting Romania in Paris at the Stade de France.
But strikes by rail workers have this week seen services canceled on the SNCF train network, including from Geneva where tournament organizer UEFA is based. Air France pilots are also planning to strike from Saturday to Tuesday, infuriating Jacques Lambert, president of the Euro 2016 organizing committee.
After two months of massive strikes and demonstrations against labor laws, Lambert said it "worries us because it could affect the mobility" of teams, referees and supporters.
"We are very concerned by the strike movement of the Air France pilots," Lambert said through a translator on Wednesday. "It is not a good situation for us, we will admit that. It is regrettable.
"We have no control over these social movements and these strikes."
Access to a train carrying the European Championship trophy across France was blocked by protesters fighting to stop planned labor law reforms as it reached the end of its 25-city tour of France at Paris' Gare du Nord station on Wednesday.
Supporters who make it to France will face an unprecedented security operation across the stadiums and fan zones in the 10 host cities. A 90,000-strong security force — including police, soldiers and private guards — has been assembled since a wave of attacks in Paris in November that left 130 people dead. The Stade de France was targeted by suicide bombers in the attacks as France hosted Germany in a friendly.
The French government has created an emergency alert application for smartphones intended to send swift warnings to other smartphone users in the event of a bombing, shooting or other disaster.
"We don't have, as organizers, a threat or specific target to Euro 2016 to any one stadium in particular, to one match in particular," Lambert said.
"We want to ... ensure Euro 2016, as a sporting tournament, suffers as little as possible from this particular context. Our main goal over the last eight months has been the hope that we can bring an end to this negative spiral."
That is likely to be achieved on the field in this European Championship, which has 24 teams — eight more than featured in the finals in Ukraine and Poland four years ago.
Defending champion Spain arrived at its training camp near the city of La Rochelle in western France on Wednesday, the day after a morale-sapping home loss to 137th-ranked Georgia in its final warm-up match.
"The game was a good opportunity to boost our confidence and create a good environment around our team," coach Vicente Del Bosque said. "But it was the opposite, it was a disappointment."
Spain's quest for a third successive European title opens against the Czech Republic on Monday in Toulouse.
Germany is looking to become simultaneous world and European champions and has told players they will each receive a bonus of 300,000 euros ($342,000) if they deliver a record fourth continental title for the country.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris and www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports