Best practice in sport safety and security - the fan experience.

Major event security is an ever-more critical and complex practice. As more new nations take up the challenge of hosting the world’s biggest sporting events, there has never been a greater need to share knowledge and experience in the field.    

After travelling around the globe reviewing major sporting events it is clear that, far too often, security planning for major international sporting events is being started with a blank sheet of paper and not building on the successes and learnings from past events.

Major event security is not an area for trial and error. It is our duty to ensure that the most effective practices for hosting these events in a secure way are thoroughly analyzed and widely shared.

The world of sport is complex.   Different countries with different cultures and economic conditions organise sporting events, which in themselves are very different.   Different infrastructures, venues and spectators, both in number and profile.   Over the next decade, events will take place across every continent. Each event is unique and has its own distinct set of security challenges.

Among the many areas that need to be considered during the planning process are the fan and athlete experiences and technology.    The latter could range from planning tools, to databases to identify criminals and troublemakers, to CCTV and airport style security checks.   In addition, policies and procedures are required to prevent corruption and enhance integrity, and a communications strategy needs to be in place to communicate an awareness of potential threats and engender confidence in the organiser’s ability to deliver security.

Ensuring a compelling fan experience

To illustrate the scale and multifaceted nature of the challenges it is worth considering, the fan experience, in a little more detail.

A compelling fan experience is vital to producing a world-class sporting event. For example, I have recently attended and observed the safety and security strategies put in place at the Rugby World Cup 2015, Pan Pacific Games 2015, Eurpoean Games 2015 and each event ensured visitors left with the impression that each host city delivered a friendly, safe and secure environment, are well-organised and each contributed to the growth in international tourism for the tournament and for the following years.

Indeed, providing a good service to fans should be a priority, and safety and security are key elements of this.   Good service can be optimised through strategic ‘fan first’ planning and event flow procedures, including detailed advanced planning of the fan experience; clear communications with supporters; a safe, secure and welcoming strategy; effective pre-event intelligence gathering; empowering responsible spectators through effective communication with fan organisations; and optimising safety and comfort, with stadium facilities fit for purpose and professionally managed.

What’s more empowering fans and excluding troublemakers should be approached as complementary strategies to help ensure good behaviour. Engagement with fan organisations and representatives is key. This can assist planners in both understanding the needs and desires of spectators, as well as communicating the reasoning for particular safety and security decisions. If fans understand why certain procedures and policies are in place they are more likely to cooperate. An empowerment-exclusion policy therefore consists of three parts. Firstly, the education of supporters, persuading them to behave in an acceptable manner, notifying them of the consequences of misbehaviour and appealing to their collective integrity and mutual responsibilities. Secondly, enforcement. Where conflict occurs, sanctions must be consistently applied and stewarding must be effective and appropriate. Finally, exclusion. This should be the result of persistent bad behaviour and must be effectively policed and monitored.

The creation of temporary ‘fan embassies’ with representatives of the organising committee, local law enforcement, international police liaison officers and consular staff can help create a welcoming environment at tournaments attracting large numbers of international fans. By creating a single point of contact, they ease lines of communication and intelligence gathering, as well as providing on-the-spot assistance for foreign nationals who have been the victims of crime.

Integral to the development of a compelling fan experience are state-of-the-art stadium design and facilities.   Within stadia civilian stewards are preferable to police or military personnel, because they present a less-confrontational, friendly face. Similarly, clearly identifiable staff, well-trained in safety procedures and focused on fan security enhance the overall experience. Opposing fans should also be appropriately segregated and supervised and the safe maximum capacity of a stadium carefully calculated.

Crucially, stadium safety and security are two distinct issues; it is possible to create an environment that is so secure, that it is fatally unsafe, as was tragically demonstrated at the Hillsborough and Heysal stadium disasters.   Among other things stadium planning should take into account realistic entry, holding and exit capacity, as well as the ability to quickly exit the stadium.

Finally, provision must also be made for fans that travel to host countries to experience the atmosphere of a major tournament, but have not purchased tickets for the arena. Hosts should consider the creation of stewarded viewing areas, capable of accommodating significant crowds and screening the event on big screens in public places. This can facilitate effective crowd management policies and enhance the fan experience. From all the major events I have attended this strategy has been successfully pursued, where the policy of encouraging ‘fan fests’ within a family-friendly, party atmosphere meant that trouble was mostly avoided.

In summary, the fan experience alone is complex and multi-layered, combined with the many other safety and security concerns, the challenge is immense.

Developing appropriate and tailor-made security concepts

Whilst it is possible to identify key themes, such as the fan experience, it is also clear that there can be no uniform security concept for all sporting events; that every event in every country has specific, individual issues and requirements.   In addition to the worldwide political security situation every organiser needs a security concept that is appropriate and tailor-made for their special event.

Maximum security with minimum restrictions

Ultimately, whilst all events are very different, one thing always remains same.   In all countries, in all sports and in all events every person has a natural basic need for security.   All visitors, spectators, VIPs, delegates and athletes want to feel secure, to be able to enjoy the event and achieve the best possible results in their sports.   Of course the organisers also have an interest in a safely managed event.   Not only for their international reputation, but also for financial reasons, given the escalating value of marketing and TV-rights.

However, security should not become an end in itself.   Organisers must guarantee the highest possible security, whilst being mindful that people’s right to freedom should be affected as little as possible.   The main guideline should be maximum security with minimum restrictions - as much security as required, with as few restrictions as possible. Always in the background, security should not affect fans or athletes’ enjoyment or participation in sporting events.

This reinforces the need to have a tailor-made security concept that is at the leading edge of technical and organisational development and takes into account all facets of an event.   This is only possible if organisers draw on worldwide experiences, evaluate events, check measures for effectiveness and bring the leading practitioners globally on-site to develop security concepts.   For a single organiser this is simply not viable.

This is where the ICSS Security Operations is supporting the world of sport and major events.   As the Director Security Operations, my team are driving a worldwide and structured exchange of knowledge, carrying out reviews and research into the effectiveness of safety and security measures at major events, discussing security design and structures and, finally, evaluate and report on safety and security at major events to ensure that exchange of information and learning is a continuous process.  

Andrew Cooke is the Director, Security Operations at the International Centre for Sport Security and can be contacted atandrew.cooke@theicss.orgor through LinkedIn.

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