We have seen the start of the UEFA EURO 2016 marred by violence inside and outside football stadiums; old stereotypes about football fans resurfacing with a new slant; fitter hooligans following a violent, nationalistic agenda unconnected to any idea of fair play. We have seen sport being used to reinforce divisions.
This is everything that sport should not be.
What can we do?
The Council of Europe has prepared a new convention to ensure that football and other sports matches are safe, secure, pleasant and welcoming events, which bring joy to fans, players and the local community alike.
Fourteen countries signed the convention at the opening ceremony on 3 July 2016 at the Stade de France, in Saint-Denis: Armenia, Bulgaria, France, Georgia, Greece, Lithuania, Moldova, Monaco, the Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Ukraine.
The convention offers a new, integrated approach to tackling football violence that brings together measures related to safety, security and service in stadiums, public viewing areas and places frequented by fans. It stresses that stadiums must be open to all – including children, the elderly and people with disabilities – as well as providing good and safe infrastructure and facilities.
The convention is important; it is, internationally, the only legally-binding instrument to establish institutional cooperation between all the organisations and groups involved in the organisation of football matches and other sporting events. And this new integrated approach draws upon the wealth of experience and good practices from many European countries.
Both the public and private sectors have to be involved at all levels – local, national and international. This is because no single agency can deal with safety and security risks alone. Greater cooperation and coordination between the police, supporters’ representatives, football clubs and national associations, the local community and businesses are essential.
Specifically, a National Football Information Point for the police should be established in each country, according to the convention, to simplify international collaboration and the exchange of information. This would help the police share information about the movements of known hooligans and so help avoid violent clashes.
Other key issues covered include the prevention and appropriate sanctioning of those participating in or organising violence or disorder.
The implementation of the convention will be monitored by a new Committee on Safety and Security at Sport Events, which will also support the countries concerned in developing national policies to comply with the convention’s provisions.
Overall, the convention builds on the work undertaken internationally over the last 30 years since the Council of Europe convention on spectator violence was adopted in 1985, following the Heysel tragedy.
The new convention recognises that supporters themselves play an important role in ensuring safety and security at sport venues and should therefore be consulted, informed and protected. Fans will not be keen to bring their families with them unless the necessary structures are in place to ensure matches are safe and welcoming.
It also identifies the need for players to set a good example by respecting the key sporting principles of tolerance, respect and fair play.
Fair play, as set out in our “European Sports Charter and Code of Sports Ethics”, is more than playing within the rules. It includes friendship, mutual respect and equal opportunities. It excludes cheating, violence, abuse and corruption.
These values and the sheer skill involved in playing remind us of why football is known as “the beautiful game”. The best way to keep it beautiful is for all European governments to sign and ratify our new convention on safety, security and service at football matches and other sports events, so that it enters into force across the continent.
Then fans of all ages, backgrounds and abilities will be able to sit back and enjoy future events, like the FIFA 2018 and EURO 2020 football tournaments.