More than 330 police and security officials from across Europe met online for UEFA’s annual Stadium & Security Conference, in preparation for the start of the 2021/22 football season.
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Watch the full webinar on the UEFA YouTube channel.
This year, there was something different about UEFA’s Stadium & Security Conference.
Instead of the traditional face-to-face gathering, and owing to COVID-19 restrictions, more than 330 participants met online for an abridged 90-minute webinar featuring six panel members.
The event was hosted by Michael van Praag, chairman of the UEFA Stadium & Security Committee, with this summer’s UEFA EURO 2020 tournament the focal point of the deliberations.
“We may be meeting online, but we can still take the learning points from EURO 2020 and see how they might apply to other matches for the rest of the season,” said van Praag in his opening address.
Those present mainly comprised national association security officers, members of the National Information Football Point network (NFIPs) and club security officers from this season’s participants in UEFA’s three main men’s club competitions: the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Europa League and the brand-new UEFA Europa Conference League, as well as their local police counterparts.
With the season kick-off coinciding with the return of spectators to the stadiums, the six panel members insisted on the importance of improved preparation, and discussed the impact of COVID-19 on match organisation.
“We in UEFA football operations are working hand in hand with the safety & security unit every day to look at the risk assessments around the games,” said Keith Dalton, chief of football operations at UEFA, in explaining the European body’s crucial internal activities in this specific area.
The effects of COVID-19
The webinar heard that the COVID-19 pandemic had led to many changes in the organisation of safety and security provisions at football matches.
Following the recent completion of UEFA EURO 2020, the webinar included several videos outlining good police practices from the tournament, as well as how to deal with COVID-19 restrictions, and reflecting on the risks that occurred and how to manage them.
Uncertainty and information at short notice from governments regarding stadium capacity regulation changes had also presented further challenges to match organisers. For instance, a shortage in stadium personnel, namely stewards and security guards, had been a particularly difficult issue.
There was also a consensus among the body of football safety and security experts that a full stadium is easier to manage than a reduced capacity stadium, because there is less need to think about seating patterns, spectator entry, social distancing and evacuation routes. “Less is more complicated,” said Chris van de Poll, EURO 2020 LOS manager in Amsterdam.
In addition, body searching procedures for stadium stewards had been revised in accordance with COVID-19 sanitary regulations. “The aim is to reduce physical contact between the stewards and the spectators,” explained Steve Frosdick, an independent expert on safety and security at sports grounds.
UEFA security officer Stephen Thomas also highlighted the importance of pushing all the checks to the outer perimeter of the stadium, while fellow UEFA security officer Vlado Glodjovic underlined the necessity to separate security checks from medical checks. “I think that’s a model of good practice,” he said.
The webinar also heard from Steve Frosdick that teams’ laps of honour after games were very helpful in managing the departure of spectators from the stadium, because it creates a psychological cue in each sector for fans to exit the stadium progressively.
The creation of the IPCC
One of the important by-products of EURO 2020 had been the creation of the International Police Cooperation Centre (IPCC). Established in The Hague as a cooperation tool between Europol, Interpol, the NFIPs and UEFA, the goal of the IPCC was to facilitate the information exchange between law enforcement authorities and the tournament’s host states.
The IPCC was a tool developed not only for EURO 2020 - it can now also be used for upcoming club competitions. “This is a legacy that was first tested during the tournament,” said Adrian Dinca, chairperson of the European Group of Safety and Security Experts at the Council of Europe.
“The IPCC is a restart of the cooperation in our network, I see it like that,” said Joost Arentsen, head of NFIP Netherlands.
UEFA security officer Frank Wijnveld reflected that when teams move to other venues with supporters following them, the IPCC “is able to quickly monitor which groups go in which direction, share the information and prepare the organisation on-site.”
With the progressive relaxation of COVID-19 regulations and travelling supporters being allowed back into venues, Keith Dalton said that “we are moving to a much more dynamic environment which is going to require that everyone is very sharp on what measures are going to be required.” Situations could change very quickly, and the tight match calendar therefore required extra preparation and communication.
Overall, the advice given to the body of match organisers is to work closely with their government, communicate with supporters and assess what kind of impact the various elements involved will have on entry procedures. “We need to exchange information hour by hour, constantly,” said Vlado Glodjovic.
An Information Exchange Checklist was shared with all the participants ahead of the webinar. The checklist is a tool to help home and away clubs prepare for and organise the safety and security of their matches in the best way possible. This practice usually takes place face-to-face at UEFA’s annual conference, when club security officers are given the opportunity to meet and prepare for the start of the season.
Questions & Answers
Finally, the webinar participants were invited to submit questions to the panel.
Answering a question about countries not yet having an NFIP, Adrian Dinca’s suggestion was to “appoint a person that can act as the NFIP.” Special designated persons from the police are acting as NFIPs in certain countries, he said.
The panel agreed that they could provide further guidance after an attendee expressed concern over the regulations on travelling stewards to away matches. “We need to become better and more structured in how the receiving country uses this resource,” said Swedish Football Association security officer Martin Fredman.
When asked for advice that could be given to new clubs joining the competitions, Michael van Praag advised the participants of the UEFA stadium & security unit’s available training courses focussing on stewarding, ticketing, crowd management, how to deal with pitch invasions, and how to implement an integrated approach. “We have all that for you, and we are here for you,” he said.
Due to the success of this webinar, another one is planned to take place just before the start of UEFA’s club competition knock-out phase in early February.