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UEFA-EU conference targets ever safer stadiums

The UEFA-EU Conference on Safety, Security and Service in Vienna was a vital exchange of best practice and guidelines for government and police representatives and security officers.

Michael van Praag addressed the UEFA-EU Conference on Safety, Security and Service
Michael van Praag addressed the UEFA-EU Conference on Safety, Security and Service ©Sportsfile

The tenth joint UEFA-European Union Conference on Safety, Security and Service took place at Vienna airport on Thursday.

Representatives and spokesmen of European governments and police bodies attended the annual meeting at the NH Hotel in the Austrian capital along with security officers from UEFA, national football agencies, the clubs taking part in this season's UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, and National Football Information Points (NFIP).

One of the main goals of the conference was to exchange best practice and guidelines for enhancing safety and security at European football matches.

After a brief welcome from UEFA's head of stadium and security Marc Timmer, delegates listened to talks by William Gaillard, adviser to the UEFA president, and Johanna Mikl-Leitner, Austrian minister of the interior, about the UEFA and EU perspectives on stadium security.

"We are establishing channels of communication here," Mr Gaillard told UEFA.com after the event, which was hosted by UEFA and the pan-European Think Tank of Football Safety and Security Experts. "Everybody from the clubs represented here knows the recipe for making events safe, but that's not worth anything without implementation. It's all about implementation," added Mr Timmer.

Another objective was to hear the opinions of key stakeholders such as supporter and stadium representative bodies, and to facilitate good contacts between club safety officers so as to assist in information exchange.

Despite the considerable progress that has been made in stadium security, Jo Vanhecke, vice-chairman of the Council of Europe Standing Committee on Spectator Violence, warned that there can be no excuse for complacency. "We have to raise awareness. Often authorities only take measures when something goes wrong. We have to avoid anything bad happening," Mr Vanhecke said.

"You must not be complacent. If you don't have a security problem for one year or so, it doesn't mean you won't ever have a security problem again. You always need to be wide awake and careful – because we are talking about people's lives. Security work will never be finished. We will always need to do this."

Mr Gaillard underlined the need for vigilance, saying: "You must always prepare for the unthinkable." Tragically, the impetus behind a greater focus on safety and security came from the Heysel Stadium disaster of 1985.

For Mr Vanhecke, it was also important that spectators should feel comfortable in their environment – rather than like caged animals, as may have been the case in the past. "People who feel welcome at the stadium will feel less irritated and frustrated. Hospitality is one very important component of the strategy," he explained.

The morning session of the meeting also provided the opportunity for other stakeholders to put across their points of view – for example, Daniela Wurbs, a coordinator from Football Supporters Europe, spoke on behalf of football fans.

In the afternoon, conference delegates were divided into small teams for a series of workshops in which participants were shown videos of critical situations and had to find solutions to the developing problems. Pyrotechnics, political protests, racism, violence, disorder and ticketless fans were the central themes to be dealt with. The makeup of the teams for these discussion groups was based on the group draw for the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League.

After the workshops, three plenary sessions completed the conference. Michael van Praag, UEFA Executive Committee member and chairman of the UEFA Club Competitions Committee, spoke about the multimedia database entitled Safety and Security Expert Tool 2.0, which allows easy access to guidance and good practice through videos, documents and images relevant to football safety and security management.

Jo Vanhecke offered some closing remarks and František Laurinec, UEFA Executive Committee member and chairman of the UEFA Stadium and Security Committee, handed out a summary to delegates to serve as a take-home-message.

Marc Timmer concluded: "Such a conference is nice. But it's not about the conference itself, it's about what happens in reality." Putting stadium safety and security into practice is not only a concern for governments, clubs and UEFA; it is also a vital issue for anyone interested in football.