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How police can manage international soccer tournaments

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How police can manage international soccer tournaments

A tournament of the greatest sport in the world: soccer. Where rival nations face each other on the field, but supporters do so in the stands or outside the stadiums. How do you make that happen safely? The 2004 soccer tournament in Portugal went mostly peacefully. Were they lucky or was it the approach of the Portuguese police? Otto Adang, lecturer in Public Order and Danger Management at the Netherlands Police Academy, conducted an independent study on supporter behavior and public order enforcement during Euro 2004.

Otto Adang, lecturer in Public Order and Danger Management, will retire in March 2024. He has been a lecturer at the Netherlands Police Academy since 2004, making him the longest-serving lecturer. His career has seen numerous high-profile social issues and research. From the corona riots and soccer hooligans to the introduction of the electric shock weapon and deployment of the Riot Squad.

After the European Football Championship was held in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2000, Portugal hosted the European Championship in 2004. In collaboration with the University of Liverpool, the Netherlands Police Academy conducted research on supporter behavior and the approach of local police in keeping the tournament orderly.

"In the run-up to the tournament, the knowledge gained from the research into Euro 2000 in the Netherlands and Belgium was shared with the Portuguese police. This is because the Portuguese police work differently: they have national police in the larger cities and in the rural areas there is a gendarmerie service. That's sort of like we know the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee in the Netherlands. As far as stadiums were in the area of the GNA, the gendarmerie, they were responsible. In the other areas, the PSP, the national police, was responsible", Adang says. "Obviously, before the tournament risk assessments were made, scenarios were developed and measures were taken. They chose a 'low profile' approach. That means: making contact, not immediately having a mass visible presence with a Riot Squad, very targeted intervention and creating an atmosphere that all fans are welcome."

Portuguese police travel to England ahead of tournament

Part of that approach: Portuguese police traveled to England prior to the tournament. "To talk to supporter groups there. To explain to them: this is how we organize it and these are the rules. That's part of this approach. It's not just something you do during the tournament. We talked in one of the places with English supporters and they told: "we have never experienced this before. There is a banner 'Welcome England fans'. Normally we are looked at with the neck, but here it says we are welcome." That contributes to keeping things orderly. It's not just what the police do, but what a whole city and country do as organizers."

Still hooligans traveled to Portugal

While a number of countries prevented known hooligans from traveling, foreign hooligans were still present during the tournament. One of the matches that was assessed as a risk beforehand was the group match of the Netherlands against Germany in Porto. Adang: "The police had taken that into account with the deployment. But because they applied the right approaches, it contributed to the fact that it went well. On Riveira Square there was a mix of supporters from all kinds of countries and it was just a big party really. Afterwards, we also heard from the German police officers who were there, German hooligans left the square. Because they didn't want to be seen on German television partying with Dutch people. That was bad for their image."

What appears very threatening may be something very innocent

At international competitions, the foreign police cooperate. Adang: "It doesn't apply to all countries, but they know their fans when it's good. Then you can better assess what the risks are. What looks very threatening may be something very innocent. For example, once I was at a Manchester United match in France. The English fans were singing a song to the tune of the Marseillaise. The French agents don't speak English very well so they didn't know what exactly they were singing. So it made them nervous. As if they were making fun of them. But the opposite was true: in the past, Manchester United had a French star player, Cantona. And they sang that song at the time in his honor, so it actually linked them to France. Exactly the opposite. If you understand that, you stand there much more relaxed. Even if you don't speak each other's language. So agents who know the supporters or know the culture of the supporters can explain it. And that makes a difference. That lowers the tension then."

You respond to behavior, not reputation

One outcome: the low-profile approach was so successful because the Portuguese police also set clear limits on what constitutes good behavior for a supporter. "You respond to behavior, not reputation. We also saw good examples of that. Situations that could potentially escalate, but where there was very targeted intervention. People were warned first and then removed from the square. As a result, things stayed small. After such an incident, we spoke to some of the supporters on the square. They were also happy with the police intervention, because it was aimed at the one who caused unrest, not the whole group", Adang says.

Does it require more or less police?

Traveling to foreign fans in advance, investing in good contacts. Does it require more capacity, such a low-profile approach? "Perhaps in the preparations, but in the long run I think it requires less effort. For a high-profile approach, where you only intervene when situations escalate, you need large numbers of Police Officers. And that also requires preparation. That is not to say that if the Riot Squad is deployed in large numbers, it is necessarily disproportionate. But the approach often has the effect that the Riot Squad waits at a distance and intervenes harshly when there is no other way. With a low-profile approach, that distance is less. You are in contact and you communicate. So then indeed you can say, you are throwing beer. That's not happening. Huppakee, get out. If you do that differentially, then people understand that in many situations", Adang concludes.

European police cooperation

The results of the study on the approach of the Portuguese police were received with pride in Portugal. Consequently, the study was discussed at a meeting of European police chiefs. And also in Brussels, at the working group for international police cooperation, Euro 2004 was seen as a success. Adang: "A number of elements from the study have been included in a handbook for European police cooperation at soccer matches. It has had an impact on European approaches. In addition, the publications we wrote about Euro 2004 are still scientifically guiding. It is often referred to as an example of a good approach."

More information

After more research, the research on Euro 2004 has had an even greater impact. Researchers established the strategic principles for crowd management. These apply not only during soccer matches, but also at other high-risk events, such as demonstrations. Read more soon!

Crowd dynamics, policing and 'hooliganism' at 'Euro 2004'

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