The UEFA-EU Stadium and Security Conference in Warsaw has become a key vehicle for dialogue in this sector, with a united and committed approach essential to success and progress.
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The benefits of a coordinated, committed and united international approach to security and safety at football matches have been highlighted at the UEFA-EU Stadium and Security Conference in Warsaw.
Speaking to key safety and security representatives at the conference, the chairman of the Council of Europe standing committee on spectator violence, Jo Vanhecke, said that the only way forward was for all major stakeholders to work together to ensure that fans can enjoy matches in a safe atmosphere.
Vanhecke said that in the past, an integrated approach at international level seemed to be an unachievable objective, with governments, police and football authorities among those blaming each other for not taking their responsibilities.
"The EU Think Tank, UEFA and the Council of Europe standing committee have developed, over the past years, a joint integrated and multi-agency approach on service, safety and security at football matches," he reflected. "We no longer blame each other, because we are convinced that only together can we move forward.
"Together, UEFA, the Think Tank and the Council of Europe have determined the key principles of such an integrated strategy, based on European good practice. At national level, the authorities must take their responsibilities and adopt an appropriate legal framework. Hooliganism is criminality and should be dealt with as such, by an efficient, government-led, exclusion strategy. This will then enable clubs, football associations and UEFA to concentrate on their main responsibility – ensuring a safe and welcoming event for the overwhelming majority of fans."
Vanhecke called for vigilance from all parties working in football safety/security, emphasising that no one should consider resting on their laurels. "Why do so many people, silently but sincerely, think a disaster cannot happen in their stadium?" he asked. "Why do so many evacuation gates still stay locked? Why do we still witness overcrowded stands? We must accept that incidents can happen and will happen, but we cannot accept that we are not prepared. 'Expect the unexpected' should be one of our main mottos.
"Let us not be naïve," Vanhecke went on. "We all know a small number of fans can spoil the fun for the majority [of fans]. However, let us not forget that this majority of fans are already the primary victims of this minority of fans among them.
"Football is a beautiful sport, the most popular in the world. Football should unite and bring joy. It should not divide or bring grief. This is a challenge for all of us. If some hooligans are in the spotlight, if police action is on the front page, this is never a good sign. If, however, fans feel welcome and have no fear for their own safety or the safety of their loved ones, only then have we created the right circumstances for football to [be the priority]."
In addition to workshops and discussions, a series of panel sessions at the conference featured experts in various fields, who examined a broad variety of issues and gave delegates food for thought and a host of ideas to take back to their own organisations. The areas covered included social media as a vital means of communication for and between fans, for police authorities and for clubs; the use of sophisticated CCTV technology as a tool for monitoring and gathering evidence; developing efficient exclusion strategies vis-a-vis individuals who caused trouble or disruption at matches; and effective security contingency planning in the stadium.
The UEFA-EU gathering has been welcomed as an increasingly crucial vehicle for exchanging views, seeking solutions and developing strategies. "For several years now, UEFA has been a fully committed partner in the organisation of this annual conference – which is unique in its nature," said UEFA Executive Committee member Michael van Praag. "It brings together clubs, police and national associations from across Europe to discuss contemporary issues affecting stadiums and security in UEFA's European competitions."
"How many conferences bring together more than 300 people working day in, day out on safety and security at football events?" said Jo Vanhecke. "We are exchanging information and good practice. We are here to raise the bar and learn from good and bad experiences. If we work together, I am convinced that football really can take centre stage."