Violence and Crowd Control in Sport

In an ideal world, sport is a powerful unifying force, helping to facilitate friendships, community and nation building.

Sport has so much potential for being a force for good in every society on Planet Earth. However, even the staunchest of sport lovers will admit that this social activity can also have very negative effects on society, some of them being  harrowing, regrettable and very much unforgettable experiences.
When things are going well, sport administrators as well security forces in various countries always forget that things could easily turn nasty in places where you have large crowds congregating. Too often, security is lax and the usual precautions are forgotten. We tell ourselves that these are jovial sports people, after all and they just want to have a good time.
It is this kind of laxity that caused unforgettable disasters at stadiums in Hillsborough in the UK, Heysel in Belgium, Ellis Park in South Africa, Port Said in Egypt and many other places, to a lesser extent.
Now, what is the role of sports administrators in all these disasters? Sports leaders should be innovative and proactive. They have a huge responsibility to ensure the safety of thousands of people who pay to watch their events.
Good event management always begins with ensuring that ticket sales are tallied with the seating arrangements and space available at any sports stadium or facility. Too often, sports leaders become greedy and sell more tickets than what the stadium or facility can accommodate because of the popularity of particular events. They want to make a killing in terms of financial revenues from these events. However, if this is discovered, it can lead to criminal indictment and charges for either endangering people’s lives or criminal negligence resulting in the death of innocent people.
Now all is well, if sports leaders are organising fantastic sports events patronised by many top celebrities, including Heads of State and Government, ministers, mayors of towns and cities but we should not forget that things can go wrong any minute. Usually, it is the head of the poor sports organiser that is on the chopping block. Once there are serious injuries or death everything else becomes secondary, that is why sports administrators must exercise great caution every time. They can be seen to be heroes one moment and greedy villains in the next.
In modern sport, both in the developed world and developing countries and regions such as Southern Africa, the work of sports administrators or event managers is being made much more strenuous and stressful by, among other things, the emergence of hooligans. These are people, who, in most cases, imbibe too much alcoholic beverages and come to sports events with one thing in mind only ‑ to cause chaos and mayhem.
This breed of attendees at sports events is the ultimate source of nightmares for all sports leaders, as well as public safety and security officials. Their behaviour is not only disgusting but also very much unpredictable.
They pose grave danger to athletes, team and match officials as well as the public.  These criminal elements need to be identified and barred from attending any peaceful sports gathering.
The emergence of hooligans, as threats to public order and safety of people at sports events means that sports administrators have no choice but to work closely with intelligence and security officials during preparations for major events. There is need for due diligence in preparing and managing sports events, which are peaceful and safe for all concerned including athletes, officials and spectators.
Peaceful and safe sports events add value to the industry by providing pleasant and happy memories for everyone involved. Therefore, the lives and safety of people can never be taken for granted.
Since we now live in a dynamic and global village, the emergence of professional terrorists is also a cause for great concern for sports leaders and security officials. Some terrorists want to choose public events such as sports gatherings to make a statement. The recent bombing of athletes, officials and spectators at the finishing area at the 2013 Boston Marathon is poignant reminder of what terrorists are capable of.
Here in Africa, terrorists shot and killed members of the Togolese delegation to the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Angola. They also bombed people who were relaxing watching the captivating 2010 FIFA World Cup on television at a sports club in Kampala, Uganda.
These examples illustrate the need for constant vigilance at sports events. Due diligence and vigilance can save many innocent lives at sports events. Now, it becomes strange and unpalatable if sports events are going to take place in tense and heavily fortified atmospheres. Sports grounds and stadiums are places where people go to enjoy themselves with their friends and families but they have become soft targets for all kinds of heinous criminals who perpetrate the most horrendous of crimes against humanity.
Sports organisations are not security or law-enforcing institutions but they can learn a number of things from their counterparts. Hooliganism and terrorism have changed the “ball game” for good. Sports leaders cannot afford to be naïve. Gone are the days of business as usual, of relaxation, pure enjoyment, fun and joy at major sport events.
All major sport organisers at national, regional, continental and international levels must liaise and closely collaborate with safety and security agencies .The consequences of not doing so could be too ghastly to contemplate for the sports leaders themselves.
The world has changed, unfortunately, for the worst. This is bad news for sports organisations and leaders. Sports administrators have to change their attitudes and behaviour with regard to safety and security. If they do not, they will have to be dragged, kicking and screaming, to ensure that athletes, officials and spectators who go sports events can go back to their homes and beloved families alive, in peace and not in pieces!
Sports leaders and organisations can no longer afford to be apolitical fence sitters. They must make genuine and visible efforts to contribute to a much safer and peaceful world. Otherwise, very soon, there will not be any sport event worth attending or participating in if the lives of people are seriously threatened at such places.
It does not help to lament about the good old days but sports administrators and organisations have to move with the times. There is hope, though, that sport itself can continue to break down barriers, unite people of diverse backgrounds, reduce extremism and contribute to a much safer and happier world for our children. We should never lose that hope!
As Napoleon rightly stated, “The world suffers a lot.  Not so much because of the violence of bad people. But because of the silence of good people.

May 2013
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