SAFETY IN THE STADIUM
On the eve of the first Securing Sport conference that is being held outside Qatar, Internationl Centre for Sport Security Vice Director- General Heinz Palme takes us into the inner workings of how to ensure security around a mega-sporting event.
On the eve of the first Securing Sport conference that is being held outside Qatar, International Centre for Sport Security Vice Director-General Heinz Palme takes us into the inner workings of how to ensure security around a mega-sporting event.
Between October 6 and 7, heads of sporting bodies from around the world gathered at the iconic Lancaster House in London to discuss improving safety, security and integrity in sport globally. Spearheaded by the Doha-based International Centre of Sport Security (which opened an office in London recently and plans to open two more in Geneva and Brussels), the conference, held under the theme Sport Under Threat, featured talks by the likes of legendary footballer Franz Beckenbauer, Lord Sebastian Cole and Javier Tebas. When the non-profit was created four years ago, it was a surprise to many in the industry that such a well-funded body with a broad agenda (involving security and risk advisory, training, research and knowledge gathering) didn't exist before, considering there had been so many incidents of violence in the history of sporting events. It was not until after watching the negative attention the security situation was bringing to the World Cup in South Africa that President of the Qatar International Academy for Security Studies and former Lieutenant Colonel in the Qatar Armed Forces, Mohammed Hanzab, decided to bring together security experts from around the world to set up a centre dedicated to studying and sharing best practices in this area. In the short time that it has been operational, Vice Director- General Heinz Palme says it is now a well-recognised authority on this issue with a big network of partners worldwide, like UNESCO, UNICEF, government organisations, World Snooker Association, the Spanish, German and Italian football leagues, etc.
Palme, who is a three-decade veteran of sports security, having worked most of his life with the Austrian Football Association and been deeply involved in securing the two FIFA World Cups in Germany and South Africa, is joined by a high-profile team that includes a former policeman and Head of Security for the 2006 FIFA World Cup Germany, the Head of Security at FIFA who was also previously at INTERPOL, and various senior personnel responsible for securing some of the biggest sporting events
ICSS IS WORKING ON THE FIFA HANDBOOK ON SECURITY. IN THE PAST WHEN A COUNTRY STARTED A BIDDING PROCESS, IT HAD MUCH LESS INFORMATION TO GO ON AND OFTEN HAD TO START FROM SCRATCH. “WHEN WE WERE PREPARING FOR THE WORLD CUP GERMANY, WE HAD MORE OR LESS NO DOCUMENTS FROM PREVIOUS EVENTS,” PALME REMEMBERS. “NOW FIFA HAS STARTED TO THINK ABOUT ITS KNOWLEDGE-TRANSFER PROGRAMME AND DIFFERENT AREAS OF THE ORGANISATIONAL AREAS HAVE BEEN CHARGED WITH PRODUCING HANDBOOKS.WE ARE DOING THE SAFETY AND SECURITY PART.”
in the last decade, be it the Olympics or football, rugby and cricket world cups. "We have some of the best-informed people working with us with links to political, sports and inter-governmental organisations. This access to active channels of information led us down the path of anti-manipulation and we realised it was just as important to ensure integrity in sport,” he says.
Undertaking extensive, behind-thescenes research for their clients, the ICSS often sends investigative teams to major events to look out for signs of match manipulation when they suspect something's afoot or hear it through the grapevine. They also coordinate with architects and stadiums planners to ensure that the infrastructure being put up meets security standards. Under a nine-year contract with the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the ICSS is doing this work for all the stadiums coming up in Doha and verifying that they have the right design concept in place, that they are both customer-friendly and safe. “We have also made a report about the experiences in security during the last two football world cups; about how those countries dealt with risks and challenges. We then started to identify and prioritise the risks to the 2022 World Cup. Additionally we have commenced training exercises for small groups of police and armed forces to start preparing them for 2022.” Palme lists their contributions over the year to Qatar's World Cup efforts, noting that their jobs and responsibilities will evolve and grow as we get closer to the big day.
But the organisation has a global agenda and over the years it has been acting as consultant to FIFA, advising the Confederations Cup, and conducting discussions with UEFA for organisation review and new setup. “We can't say who but we are about to sign a contract with a famous club in Europe who are starting construction on their new stadium,” he says. The organisation is also partnering with academic institutions like Sorbonne University in France to research and report on match manipulation and illegal betting. They have also teamed up with Harvard on a project on making sport sustainable by generating a positive image. “We prepared an index for bidding countries to identify the white elephants and understand developments they should have in place before embarking on the bid, which we offer to city governments and local sport bodies,” Palme says.
Palme's mantra is ‘Maximum Security with Minimum Restriction' and most audiences would agree. It's important to note that the fans are there to have a fun time and overly obvious security like policemen in heavy gear can dampen the experience. “In the stadium, no one wants to see policemen on the pitch. They should secure the environment but also be invisible. At Rio Maracena, there were ten rows of policemen physically checking my ticket. It was ridiculous! Safety and security are foremost to a customer service, and how to approach people and address them are important issues,” he says. “This is why creating a strategy and philosophy is the most important recommendation we can make to any organising body. They have to be open about greeting people from all over the world who love and want to celebrate the sport. They are normally not hooligans, they have to have a good time and leave the country with a positive image.”
So when you are creating the strategy for your event, the security aspects must also fit into it, he says. “If Qatar wants audiences to Expect Amazing, the security team must want to do.” Palme gives the example of the World Cup in Germany in 2008. “Granted, it was easier there because we had a lot of experienced people, but we made certain that our slogan – A time to make friends – was ingrained in each person who was working towards the event. Everyone, including the police, was spreading the message and was primarily very warm and welcoming, which definitely helped to prevent any incidents of violence or hooliganism,” he says.
But preparation is key, he warns, because anything is likely. “You can't wait till something happens. You need a plan, a definite set of operational procedures for any kind of eventuality.” Political issues often spill over onto the pitch, like the incident in Port Said in 2012 which killed 74 people and injured over 100. It was big concern during the UEFA championships in Poland and Ukraine in 2012; Ukraine was in the throes of political turmoil (which eventually came
to a boil this year) and there was cautious planning to eliminate any risk of violence.
“Making risk assessments and creating crisis management scenarios are critical. In Germany, we compiled all possible risks from every department, prioritised the scenarios (from close to 250 risks, we made a list of the top 10 that we wanted to focus on, like a bomb threat in the stadium) and then ran through each of them. We had two whole days of high-intensity training with venue managers and security heads of first response and immediate plan of action. We did something similar in South Africa, spending half a day in each of the venues, giving them a catalogue of risks to be prepared for,” he says.
High crime rates have been a specific risk in the last two football World Cups in South Africa and Brazil. “This stopped a lot of people from going for the game in South Africa. Unfortunately, because the government didn't do enough to counter this, the media took leadership on this to show the country in a bad light, which it didn't deserve. The private security industry in sports didn't exist in South Africa which was also an added risk,” he explains.
Brazil (which Palme believes was just handed over the World Cup and hence was lackadaisical) additionally had to deal with mistakes in strategy planning and consequent delays in infrastructure delivery. “They let time slip out of their fingers and when they finally realised they had to speed up, it was too late (though thankfully it turned out fine in the end). How can you start operations and training when the facilities are not ready in time?” he asks. It's doubly important because we keep incorporating new technology into our stadiums and it's imperative that we have enough time to test them before inviting the public in. Also, with the proliferation of social media, any small incident can result in loud echoes online, he reminds us, insisting again on the need to plan, think and consider everything. “Security is not a feat for trial and error,” he says.
Palme carefully sidesteps the issue of the volatility in the Middle East and how it might affect the security planning for 2022. It's understandable; the situation is changing every day and any speculation about eight years down the line is completely pointless. But there is no doubt that it's on everyone's mind. “Of course, it's an important factor to consider. When we talk to the Supreme Committee we raise doubts about what could be challenging and risky. But it can be addressed only in cooperation with the authorities and the political situation is largely government-driven and there isn't much we can do there. We don't know what's going to happen in the next eight years but the only thing Qatar has to do is run through the catalogue of measures that must be taken. It's relatively easy to say, but it gets very complex, spilling over into cyber security and other related fields,” he says.
The important thing is to be aware that you are hosting the world and that the World Cup is a big opportunity for global recognition
Crime rates and local
protests against the World Cup resulted in high security during the matches in Brazil this
Spectators at Port Said Stadium remember the victims of the riots two years ago.
HEINZ PALME Vice Director-General International Centre for Sport Security
Germany prepares for its World Cup in 2006. Clockwise from left: A bomb disposal robot attempts to safely detonate an explosive; security officials study a stadium evacuation drill; Emergency service practice evacuation injured spectators; security forces participate in a mock hijacking scenario (with a planeful of willing journalists; a crowd control exercise in progress.