FEATURE: Rioting fans throw stadium security into focus

AFP, BERLIN

Wed, Nov 07, 2012 - Page 19

With police and politicians calling for action against rioting hooligans and a new security proposal proving controversial, violence at Germany’s soccer grounds has again hit the headlines.

Images of fans battling police and rival supporters alike made the news on Oct. 20 when Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 fans clashed, leading to 180 arrests.

“The riots show clearly that the time for action is now,” politician Lorenz Caffier, leader of the German conference of state interior ministers, told magazine Sport Bild.

“Despite extensive discussions with fan groups in the summer, it has manifestly failed to stem violence in soccer stadiums,” he said.

Last Wednesday, a 300-strong group of Dresden fans stormed the stadium at Hanover 96 leading to 21 arrests and delaying a German Cup match as they clashed with police.

Statistics show going to a Bundesliga stadium is still safer than a visit to the world-famous Oktoberfest in Munich, but pictures of rioting fans means the image of German soccer is being tarnished.

Discussion is raging about how to deal with the problem, but police say the time for debate has passed.

“The perpetrators must be filtered out, identified and the justice process started,” the head of Germany’s police union, Bernd Witthaut, told Sky Sports News.

“It makes sense for that to happen directly at the stadium,” he said. “There should be one, two or three state prosecutors at matches, if possible. That would have a deterrent effect.”

Last Thursday, 250 fan representatives from 49 clubs travelled to Berlin for a security summit.

Among the speakers was Andreas Rettig, the German Football League’s (DFL) chief executive, but while the recent violence was condemned and a follow up meeting was agreed, there was no clear agreement over a security policy.

The DFL’s “Secure Stadium Experience” proposal is proving controversial with clubs and fans alike.

Key points in the proposal include the introduction of full-body searches, the banning of face coverings to allow hooligans to be identified by CCTV and fans policing themselves.

The DFL had said the clubs must agree on how they want security to be conducted at Bundesliga stadiums by Dec. 12 or they will decide on their own policy.

Sandra Schwedler, who works for the fan union “ProFan,” warns the Bundesliga, known for its cheap tickets and packed stadiums, risks going the way of England’s Premier League with inflated prices.

She claims soccer chiefs want to sanitize the game in Germany.

“Basically, [the message is] the unpredictable group of ultras, the self-organized fans who represent the unpredictability of the game, should get out,” she told Berlin newspaper TAZ.

“Fans who bring in more money and make no trouble, or bother politicians, should come in,” she said.

Several clubs, including 2007 champions VfB Stuttgart and 2009 league winners VfL Wolfsburg, have already rejected the first draft.

Fans are also rejecting the “Secure Stadium Experience,” with 34,000 signing the online petition “I feel safe” in the first five days.

The facts back up the fans.

Roughly 17.6 million people attended first and second division Bundesliga matches in 2010 and last year. Of those 846 were injured, one casualty for every 21,000 visitors.

In comparison, last year’s Oktoberfest, which lasts two weeks, resulted in 10,322 injuries from the 7 million visitors who came to the giant beer festival.