Impressions from the annual UEFA-EU conference in Munich

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At the annual UEFA-EU conference in Munich, stadium and security experts have agreed on the importance of being proactive and showing anticipation, to help prevent security issues before they happen.

The need to keep ‘one step ahead’ was the focal point of the latest UEFA-EU Stadium and Security Conference in Munich this week.

Some 360 stakeholders involved in stadium safety and security activities came to Bavaria for discussions on how to ensure that football matches can take place in a safe, welcoming and secure environment.

The annual event, held for the 17th time, brought together representatives of UEFA, the European Union, national football associations, football clubs, police forces and other stakeholders for discussions and exchanges on security-related issues in the game.

They were briefed on the importance of using every tool and resource available to respond in a proactive manner to the various negative elements that can endanger security at football events.

“Safety and security incidents continue, despite our efforts,” the chairman of the UEFA Stadium and Security Committee, Michael van Praag, told the conference.

“So this conference aims to get us on the front foot,” he added. “We want to do more to prevent problems before they happen, as well as reacting when they do.”

Alongside incidents of violence, especially outside stadiums, other continuing issues include the use of pyrotechnics and attendant dangers, pitch incursions and incidents of a political nature  ̶  showing the diversity of the problems still being faced.

Early information exchanges between the stakeholders, especially about travelling supporters, is considered vital  ̶  as well as an integrated partnership approach to match organisation, greater use of the experience of supporter groups and liaison officers as part of match preparation, and increased implementation by countries of the 2016 Council of Europe Convention on an integrated safety, security and service approach at sporting events.

The Convention, open to ratification by Council of Europe member and non-member states, aims, among other things, to promote safety of spectators inside and outside stadiums; improve dialogue between the police, local authorities, football clubs and supporters; strengthen international police cooperation; and prevent and punish hooliganism through effective measures.

The importance of monitoring social media to counter hooliganism and stay ‘one step ahead’ was outlined by Dick Berlijn, former commander of the armed forces in the Netherlands, and now a consultant in data analysis. He explained how hooligans and ‘ultras’ used social media to communicate with each other, adding that events do not just happen, and that different phases take place before an incident.

Social media was helpful in finding networks, he added  ̶  as well as individuals and what they were doing, who the network leaders were, and what their plans were. It was easier to intervene at an early stage, Dick Berlijn explained, than when something had happened. Social media was an important source to follow and find out what was happening, to enable appropriate action to be taken.

The case was presented at the conference for the effective exclusion of troublemakers as a way of keeping ‘one step ahead’ of them. UEFA feels it is essential to identify and weed out those people who have the single objective of causing disorder by using football as a platform. 

Given the continuing serious incidents of violence and disorder taking place in Europe, delegates agreed that the best way of preventing the problem in the stadium was to prevent the troublemakers from coming in the first place – such people needed to be excluded from the football experience.

Those present heard the view that more governments should introduce strong national legislation, for example, to counter the problem of spectators excluded from matches in their own country, but who were still able to travel to other countries where they had not been excluded – thereby effectively exporting problems from country to country.

                            Michael Van Praag

The conference, which takes place before the start of each UEFA club competition season, underlined UEFA’s firm commitment to eradicating the various elements that generate potential risks at matches, and which can profoundly affect spectators’ enjoyment of the match experience. 

Significant funding is being made available by UEFA to implement a comprehensive safety and security strategy, launched in 2017 and running until 2021, with extensive support being given to UEFA’s 55 member associations in their national safety and security work.

“The UEFA Executive Committee [has]allocated money to help national associations improve their capabilities,” Michael van Praag explained. “This is why we have been rolling out a programme of summits, expert seminars, masterclasses and other training over the last 12 months.”

The UEFA strategy advocates the delivery of integrated and balanced safety, security and service for the vast majority of fans.

Consequently, European football’s governing body made use of the Munich gathering to press home its call for a pan-European, multi-agency approach to safety and security, comprising governments, local authorities, police, security forces, football authorities, supporters and local communities.

“As we move into year two of the [security strategy]programme,” Michael van Praag told the audience, “let me encourage you all to join me in getting one step ahead of the problems we all face.”

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