UEFA's Stadium and Security Committee ensures the game is played on the best possible stage.
Article top media content
"Many years ago, UEFA had a very simplified system, as there weren't too many specialists in each and every area of football. However, with the enlargement of the UEFA Champions League, we had to specialize in certain committees," said chairman Şenes Erzik. "Today, we have standards and the system of stadium rating. We have inspection trips, we have specialist inspectors and criteria to find the best solutions for our needs."
The state-of-the-art venues which now provide the backdrop for UEFA competitions have all passed the stringent requirements placed on them by the 15-member committee, which keeps abreast of the very latest developments in stadium and security issues, and constantly reviews its policies and standards.
Europe now boasts many of the world's best and safest stadiums. However, a series of tragedies in the 1980s proved a major catalyst for innovation in stadium and security matters. "It was a lesson, so we began to apply new standards," said Erzik, who is also first vice-president of UEFA. "The revolution - and the evolution - was when we asked, as a governing body, for all-seater stadiums. This was the first step ahead."
UEFA has since made numerous strides towards providing a better and safer environment in which to watch football, such as the more effective segregation of opposing fans, while also encouraging clubs to take their own steps to improve matters as stadium security has slowly evolved into a team game.
"We work very closely in partnership with the local authorities, including the associations, the clubs, as well as the police, security and stewards," said Erzik. "The system as a whole is much more developed than before. We have organisational meetings, whenever and wherever necessary, bringing many countries together."
Police forces remain a key ally in working towards safer football stadiums, and UEFA ensures close collaboration with them through its work with the EU football experts group within the EU Police Co-operation Working Party. However, while stressing the central role the police have to play, Erzik emphasised the need for stadium stewards to receive comprehensive training in order to provide police with a crucial support network inside grounds.
"If stewards are well-trained and well-placed, they are the best people to help the police and allow the game to go smoothly and safely," said Mr Erzik. "Hopefully, there will be more work for the stewards in the future, and less for the police."
Host of measures
The battle to rid football of racism remains a fundamental part of the committee's work, and they have been co-operating closely with the Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE) network to devise a host of initiatives for this summer's UEFA EURO 2008™ tournament. The 'Unite Against Racism' message will be seen on pitch-side boards inside all eight stadiums hosting matches in Austria and Switzerland, and stewards, ball-boys and ball-girls will have branded bibs bearing the slogan, which will also appear on the captains' armbands.
‘Have to fight'
"At UEFA, we are treating this situation very seriously, and I hope one day we will get rid of it totally, or at least get it out of stadiums," said Erzik. "I don't like the word 'fight' - as a person - but if we use it in this respect, I like it. It is a strong word, but we have to fight for the sake of a better world. This should never be in the stadium, never be around our sport."