UEFA, the EU and other stakeholders have emphasised their strong commitment to guaranteeing safety and security in football stadiums at a keynote conference in Vienna.
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The annual UEFA & EU Think Tank Conference on Safety and Security for the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League took place in Vienna yesterday.
Over 300 professionals from the qualified clubs, their police counterparts, stadium owners as well as UEFA member associations and government bodies joined forces, providing a unique platform to iron out the operational issues and responsibilities for the new season of UEFA competition matches.
This year's conference theme was 'Raising the Bar – improving stadium and security operations'.
Opening the conference, the message delivered by František Laurinec, chairman of the UEFA Stadium and Security Committee and UEFA Executive Committee member, was that safety comes first. "It overrides all other aspects of match organisation. Preventative measures are the best course of action coupled with sensible regulations that are based upon real-life experiences. In safety we must always strive to better ourselves, developing good practices in harmony with an ever-changing society."
The EU Presidency message was equally strong. Loucas Louca, the minister of justice and public order for Cyprus, emphasised the crucial nature of teamwork, detailing that it is of minimal benefit to only look at what a person did or did not do. The real benefits are found in the open and honest exchange of information. "It should not be forgotten that we are safeguarding people's lives. There is no place for complacency or a blame culture – we can only progress through sharing and supporting."
Michael van Praag, chairman of the UEFA Club Competitions Committee and UEFA Executive Committee Member, commented: "It is our responsibility to work together to drive change, creating the safest environment for football. Even for brand-new stadiums, the fact remains that these venues can only be as safe as the people who operate them. It is the subtle combination of the physical and the personal experience that counts for everything and produces the ultimate in safety standards."
UEFA embraced this theory throughout the conference this year, referring to the 'P&S Factors' – which define the two main components of the overall safety equation. The P-Factor relates to the state of the stadium infrastructure, and the S-Factor to the actual quality of the stadium management. A special session attended by stadium owners and operators and co-hosted by EVMI and ESSMA focused on these issues. The outcome of this workshop will inform the development of a good practice guide by UEFA over the coming months.
The conference continued on a practical note, including an incident overview of the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League seasons. This allows for a better understanding of the extent and range of incidents that take place, and means that responses can be evaluated and improved upon.
It was followed by interactive workshops designed to provoke and stimulate discussion on safety and security matters. The content of the workshops was drawn from specific events that occurred during UEFA EURO 2012, UEFA Champions League or UEFA Europa League matches. Video footage was used to trigger debate on topics such as the need for police presence inside stadiums, the roles of the police and stewarding as well as the conditions for effective integrated stadium operations. Moderators from both UEFA and the EU Think Tank directed the talks.
The group also listened to presentations from Joyce Cook, the managing director of the Centre for Access to Football in Europe (CAFE), on the Access For All Good Practice Guide, underlining the importance of easy access and comfort for disabled fans. Piara Powar the executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe (FARE), stressed the zero tolerance approach which must be adopted towards racial discrimination.
Gianni Infantino, UEFA General Secretary, also highlighted the value of unity, invoking everyone present to better influence, invest and devote themselves to raising the safety bar. "I can assure all our partners that UEFA will remain fully committed to supporting your efforts. Communication and transparency are vital. It is because we love football that we must work hand in hand to stop the minority who seek to impact negatively on our sport."