Swedish government propose banning wearing of masks at football matches

Supporters could be imprisoned for up to six months and the police say it will make their jobs easier, though the move has divided opinion

19 October ~ The Swedish government is proposing a general ban on wearing masks at football matches and other sporting events. The ban is intended to enter into force on March 1, 2017 and there will be exceptions for those who are covering their faces for religious or health reasons, or due to severe weather conditions. The proposed penalty would be a fine or up to six months’ imprisonment.

“There is no reasonable reason to be masked at a football match,” Anders Ygeman, the minister for home affairs, told news agency TT. The proposal also gets a thumbs up from the police. “This is an excellent tool for us,” said Anders Hallesjo, head of Gothenburg’s police anti-hooliganism unit.

The proposal has been a while coming. In 2011 the then government appointed a national inquiry into sport-related violence (popularly known as the Hooligan Inquiry), and a ban on masks was one of the measures the group sought in its final report made two years later. After a few more years of work, including discussion of the legal aspects of fundamental rights, the proposal has now been fully examined and the consultation process is complete.

This year’s season has had its due share of masked fire-starters and delayed matches. Two games had to be halted as the result of violent and tumultuous events. Last spring the IFK Gothenburg v Malmo match was stopped when a banger was thrown onto the pitch dangerously close to the assistant referee and the Malmo player Tobias Sana. Sana reacted in the heat of the moment by pulling up the corner flag and throwing it into the crowd. Malmo were awarded a 3-0 victory.

A few months later when Ostersund were playing away at Jonkopings Sodra, a masked man leaped onto the pitch and attacked the away team’s goalkeeper. When arrested, the man, who had a bet on the match, claimed that bombs had been placed around the arena. That match too eventually had to be decided by Sweden’s sports disciplinary board.

“In sporting terms, it is devastating for us to have matches decided on paper,” says Mats Enqvist, secretary-general of the Swedish Elite Football Association, which represents clubs in the top two divisions. Enqvist also expressed his concern that spectators might get the idea that their actions can determine the result of a match.

The general view seems to be that the proposed ban may prove a useful weapon against a destructive culture in the stands and that it will make the police’s work easier. Those opposed to the move include the Swedish Football Supporters’ Union, whose response to the consultation stated “the same laws should apply throughout society as far as possible, and separate laws that only apply to sporting events should be avoided to the greatest possible extent”. Mikael Engqvist