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Safety in comfort

Racially motivated rioting, attacks on rival fans and on police officers – in recent months, outbreaks of violence have dominated the headlines and led to match postponements in several countries. A disturbing and tragic low point was reached in Sicily in early 2007 when Italian policeman Filippo Raciti was murdered by young hooligans outside Catania’s stadium after a Serie A match.
Such events inevitably lead to debate on security in football. Who is responsible? Where? When? In broad terms, the answer is simple – security in stadiums is the responsibility of the game itself, whereas safety and security outside stadiums comes down to the local authorities. FIFA, its member associations and the clubs cannot act like a police force. Football cannot be held responsible for public safety and security, but having sad that, the game must cooperate with public authorities.
The above principle requires football to meet its obligations, however. A good level of comfort in the stadiums with the necessary seating, suitable refreshment and sufficient sanitary installations is only part of it. Today, football requires not only stewards to help spectators, but also efficient entry controls and surveillance cameras to identify, and when necessary, remove people determined to disturb the peace or incite violence before they can cause any significant damage.
It is high time that the state and sport came together to find a solution. Some stadiums still have fences even though barriers of any kind are not only an anachronism but also potential death traps, as tragically highlighted by the Hillsbourhg disaster in 1989. If people are treated like wild animals or prisoners, they will inevitably act as such. A fan who runs past stewards onto the field of play may be an annoyance, and in very rare occurrences he may also be a potential threat, but a fan crushed to death against a fence would be a tragedy. In the early 1990s, the authorities in the United Kingdom laid down strict safety regulations for stadiums and clearly defined areas of responsibility.
FIFA has included recent findings and experiences in the field of stadium construction in the latest edition of its dedicated stadium book, giving a group of experts from all around the world the opportunity to go into more specific detail. The governing body has also drafted a worldwide security plan with a view towards the preliminary competition of the 2010 FIFA World Cup TM. This makes it obligatory, among other things, for associations to appoint their own security officers to act as an interface between FIFA, the relevant confederation and local authorities in any matters pertaining to safety and stadiums. In addition, any stadium hosting a match in the World Cup preliminary competition now has to meet a number of minimum standards that have been defined by a group of FIFA experts. FIFA has been conducting inspections since November 2006, while also taking the opportunity to hold a local seminar on the new safety plan to help associations implement FIFA’s provisions and instructions.
This is the way forward for football: the game must take a stand against violence and transmit a visible, positive message to the whole of society by understanding on safe, modern stadiums and well though-out preventive measures.