Cup fear

As the World Cup approaches, the possibility of violence is a concern but so is the ability of the German police to tell the difference between a fan and a hooligan, writes Paul Joyce

On November 27, 53 Polish hooligans drove to a wood in Briesen in north-east Germany for a pre-World Cup fight with 45 hooligans drawn from the region’s Hell’s Angels and nightclub bouncer scene, one of whom had been involved in the assault on French policeman Daniel Nivel at the 1998 World Cup. Although German hooligans had previously been keeping a low profile at home, fears of a resurgence of organised violence had already surfaced last March, when more than 40 Germany followers were arrested after rioting during a friendly in Slovenia. 

The incident also confirmed fears that Germany’s central location will make it much harder to police than Portugal was for Euro 2004. The cross-border nature of the battle of Briesen surprised even those experts who had warned that Poland’s highly structured hooligan element made it one of several eastern European countries with whom Germany needed to improve police co-operation before the tournament in June. This is particularly urgent now that the two countries have been drawn to play each other, in Dortmund. A meeting of German regional interior ministers in December concluded that security in the World Cup stadiums themselves was largely under control due to a combination of preventative custodial orders and stringent security measures. Yet although the use of RFID personalised ticketing technology should prevent known offenders from gaining access to the 12 arenas, the tickets issued to sponsors (550,000) and national associations (470,000) were initially not going to be individualised. The recently introduced internet service that allows fans to exchange and sell advance tickets may also affect segregation.

Sepp Blatter has criticised ticketing procedures as “too perfectionist”, warning: “There has to be security, but it shouldn’t take hours for spectators to get into the stadium.” The FIFA president also ordered a structural review of all 12 World Cup grounds in December after a Bundesliga fixture in Kaiserslautern had to be postponed due to problems with the roof of the Fritz-Walter-Stadion. The stadium roof in Frankfurt had proved defective on two occasions and the stands in Nuremburg’s Frankenstadion require stabilisation. Shortly before Christmas, Hamburg midfielder Alexander Laas was struck on the head by a wooden drumstick hurled by a Cologne supporter, leading World Cup organisers to insist that fine-meshed netting be installed behind the goals in all grounds.

Germany’s interior ministers share the fears of police-union officials that the major security risk will be posed by the public viewing screens where matches will be broadcast to crowds of up to 30,000. National police chairman Konrad Freiberg stated: “My immediate question is, who is responsible for keeping order at these events? Will there be security checks? Who will look after the safety of the fans?” This is an issue that particularly affects travelling England supporters. David Swift, who stepped down in December as the lead officer on football issues for the Association of Chief Police Officers, has endorsed invitations to ticketless English fans to come to Germany, believing that the exemplary behaviour of a large contingent of genuine supporters will aid the self-policing of potential troublemakers. But with up to 50,000 England fans expected to descend on Frankfurt for the first group match against Paraguay, the 15,000 capacity of the city’s MainArena with its floating screen is deemed insufficient by Gerd Wagner, co-ordinator of the German fan project centre, Kos. Congestion could be eased by the creation of one of four national fan cities, where up to 2,500 fans could congregate and sleep, in nearby Mainz-Kastel, but the project seems destined to be buried due to lack of sponsorship.

There are also concerns about police heavy-handedness. Germany’s only previous World Cup was in 1974, two years after the terrorist atrocities at the Munich Olympics, and the police increased security to such an extent that armed guards roamed training camps and Franz Beckenbauer carried a gun for his own protection. The qualification of both the United States and Iran for 2006 has led to similar fears and interior minister Wolfgang Schäuble has proposed that the German constitution should be amended to permit the civil deployment of the armed forces to protect stadiums, airports and team headquarters. Schäuble’s coalition partners, the Social Democrats (SPD), oppose such an amendment, however. “The motto of the World Cup is ‘The world as a guest of friends’,” said the SPD’s Kurt Beck. “Should our guests be met by the military as in a military dictatorship?”

Police union chiefs claim that Schäuble’s main aim is to distract from cutbacks in the police budget that could leave the force dangerously stretched during the World Cup. There have been 7,000 police jobs cut in the past five years and the national police budget for 2006 is €10 million (£6.8m) lower than in 2004. Financial constraints have also led to the postponement until 2010 of the much needed digitalisation of the police radio network. The antiquated analogue system promptly crashed during a simulated bomb explosion at Munich’s Allianz Arena in November.

 “Confrontational policing generally produces confrontation,” said Kevin Miles, the international co-ordinator of the Football Supporters’ Federation (FSF), on his return from a five-day workshop on World Cup preparations. “Infinitely preferable is the sort of visible but low-friction friendly policing as experienced in Portugal 2004 and the Dutch half of Euro 2000.” There were almost no incidents of disorder at Euro 2004 in areas controlled by Portugal’s public security police, who adopted a low-impact approach on the advice of the University of Liverpool’s School of Psychology. Yet plans backed by the federal government for the university to continue their research into information-led law enforcement at the World Cup have been blocked by representatives of Germany’s 16 states, who cannot see the value in the project.

This in itself does not imply that high-impact policing paradigms will be employed. Uniformed British police are likely to be present to defuse tensions and the fan centre KOS has been involved in the development of initiatives such as fans’ embassies to welcome visiting supporters. Police in Frankfurt and Cologne were keen to listen to suggestions from the FSF for the policing of England’s group matches. Cologne police spokesman Jürgen Göbel has stated that plans for all four games taking place in his city were “basically the same” and that any “dark speculations” regarding the England v Sweden tie on June 20 “would merely succeed in unsettling potential spectators”.

Yet the autonomy enjoyed by regional police authorities could mean that strategies will vary significantly from venue to venue. “German hooligans know that we operate a low-tolerance policy,” said Hamburg police chief Peter Born. Joachim Lenders, the chairman of the city’s police union, views such an approach as a recipe for conflict with overseas fans who are unfamiliar with these ground rules.

While the conduits for dialogue with overseas fan organisations remain open, many German supporters fear that isolated incidents such as the fight in Briesen are being used by police authorities to legitimise a pre-emptive crackdown on all domestic football followers. The over-aggressive policing of Eintracht Frankfurt fans celebrating promotion in May and the police raid on the Jeton disco containing Dynamo Berlin adherents in August earned condemnation from politicians and media alike. On the opening day of the 2005 Confederations Cup, 2,000 active fans representing 40 German clubs demonstrated in Frankfurt against police repression and anti-hooligan hysteria. “We are all interested in a peaceful and vibrant World Cup, but are forced to conclude that we are being excluded and marginalised,” explained the organisers.

It is widely believed that many of the 6,200 entries in the police register of violent German hooligans are based on false or circumstantial evidence. Thomas Ludwig of the Mönchengladbach fan project says that a national association of fan initiatives has been established to insist that individuals are informed as soon as their name is placed on the list. There must also be a legal procedure for getting your name removed. Civil-rights experts also see potential data-protection abuses arising from the accreditation process that will screen 250,000 World Cup personnel and also from the usage of video surveillance, biometric eye scans and pervasive computerised ticketing.

None of these measures surprises Johannes Stender, a spokesman for the German Alliance of Active Football Fans (BAFF), who claims that football supporters have been criminalised en masse for ages. A BAFF T-shirt featuring the World Cup mascot behind bars and claiming that guests to the World Cup would “feel like they were in jail” may just be this year’s fashion item for discerning ultras.

From WSC 228 February 2006. What was happening this month