Countering security threats

The campaign to stop football violence and counter the dangers of pyrotechnics in stadiums were focal points at the UEFA-EU Stadium and Security Conference in Bucharest.

The conference was attended by more than 300 delegates
The conference was attended by more than 300 delegates ©Mircea Maieru

The campaign against violence, dealing with the dangers of pyrotechnics, countering the treat of terrorist attacks and training national associations – discussion topics that dominated the agenda at this week's UEFA-European Union (EU) Stadium and Security Conference in Bucharest.

Representatives of UEFA, the EU, national associations, clubs, police forces and other stakeholders went home from Romania with new proposals, ideas and visions, as well as taking on board UEFA's call for a multi-agency partnership approach to ensuring that people could watch football in a safe, welcoming environment.

In a message to the conference, the first vice-president of the European Commission, Frans Timmermans, called for effective international police co-operation and tough exclusion measures to deal with violence around football matches.

"Every season, millions of football fans from all European countries travel all across Europe to support their teams," he said. "The overwhelming majority of these fans just want to enjoy the game. Unfortunately, some see the games as an opportunity for crime, disturbance and hooliganism (…) Violent criminals hiding behind the colours of their national team.

"Even though criminals like these are a small minority, they still account for incidents that affect almost half of UEFA games. Let me be very clear – there can never be an excuse for football violence and disorder. That means that the governments and the police must be at the forefront of its prevention. Keep these people away from football."

Delegates debated the health and safety risks associated with the use of pyrotechnics in stadiums – responsible for the single highest number of incidents at UEFA matches last season.

UEFA Executive Committee member and UEFA Stadium and Security Committee vice-chairman František Laurinec emphasised that this pan-European phenomenon should not be considered as too difficult to deal with.

"UEFA has never accepted that an activity which puts at risk the lives and health of supporters, the very life blood of our sport, should be tolerated,” Laurinec explained.

"We all have a responsibility to explore every avenue in search of measures that will help reduce the risks. It is a phenomenon which must not slip off anyone's agenda"

The threat of terrorist attacks at football matches is high on the list of current security concerns, especially following the tragic events in Paris, Brussels and Nice over the past year.

The conference agreed that integrated cooperation involving, among others, governments, police, security forces, match organisers and the general public needed to be stepped up to counter what is identified as a real and dangerous threat.

Given that football matches and their large crowds could represent a clear target for terrorists, efficient security controls outside of stadiums, including the potential use of a series of security rings around venues, could help detect and deter potential attackers.

Well-trained and highly prepared security staff were essential, as had been proved when an attack was thwarted at last November's friendly match between France and Germany at the Stade de France.

Good deterrents, alert staff and vigilant spectators were all deemed to be key in helping to protect lives. While technology was important in detecting possible attackers, the human factor was even more vital, with people urged to report or give information to police on any suspicious people or incidents.

Sufficient clear information also needed to be transmitted to spectators, for example, in the event of the discovery of a suspect device at a stadium, to prevent panic and ensure that evacuation measures passed without difficulty.

UEFA's safety and security strategy includes constant guidance and assistance to its 55 member associations to improve the efficiency of work in the sector across the continent, and several examples of specific projects were highlighted in Bucharest – including 'train the trainer' courses for those responsible for coaching stewards.

The assistance offered and funds given by UEFA helps each association to reinforce their safety and security infrastructures, and are ultimately designed to leave a legacy where each country acquires sufficient knowledge and expertise to make full use of best practices and further develop their own specific activities and programmes.