February 8, 2012

TSG Brief: Spectator Violence – Is There A Solution?

When does security and safety planning begin for a Major Event? In many cases - especially those with a global interest such as the World Cup Soccer and Olympic Games - this vital step begins as early as bidding stages of these events.

Violence and tragedy have been part of the sport of soccer for decades, as seemingly inescapable as it is unfortunate. Whether it involves stampeding crowds that literally crush fellow fans underfoot in South America or the brazen hooliganism commonly seen in Western Europe, violence has arguably become an intractable element of the sport over the last fifty years. Other sporting events around the world have experienced a similar escalation in violence, both in frequency and in ferocity. In sum, fan violence has literally become an epidemic problem for all sports on a global level.

The recent incident in Egypt has cast an insidious shadow on the sport of soccer, one that already suffers from the ill effects of graft, bribery and the inability of national and international organizations to foster an environment capable of deterring and preventing the violence.


Who is responsible for the soccer violence that recently took place in Egypt? Is it a result of poor leadership in government and public safety, or an indictment of society as a whole?

Once again, recent headlines announced yet another example of soccer violence, this time in Egypt, where 74 people died and hundreds more were injured. Much speculation has inundated media reporting as to the cause of the violence at the Port Said Soccer Stadium in Cairo, Egypt, that took place on February 2, 2012. There is general agreement among those who are closely following the geopolitical environment in Egypt, as well as security experts examining this incident, that this event is but another manifestation of the endemic instability in Egypt and the deeply rooted discontent with the military rule that has overtaken the country in the aftermath of the populous uprising and toppling of the Mubarak regime approximately one year ago.

Initial reports indicate that the violence can be attributed to an entity known as the Ultras. The Ultras are a loosely organized group of rabid soccer fanatics comprised largely of unemployed and disenfranchised young people. The Ultras are modeled after similar militant and "hooligan" type soccer fan groups seen in Western Europe; however, in this case, the Ultras have also been heavily involved in the political discord that has racked Egypt in the past year, with many taking up an active role in the effort to oust Mubarak and replace Cairo's military rule.

In a statement that appeared on their Facebook page, one that has some 230,000 followers, the Ultras proclaimed that their action at the soccer stadium was a message "primarily directed at the Egyptian Football Association (EFA)." The Facebook statement further claimed their message was also directed at "anyone who thinks he can turn stadiums into prisons under his control. We own the stadiums, we own the stands."

These militant/soccer fans have been demanding the resignation of the EFA's board, which consists largely of Mubarak appointees, whom they accuse of corruption and allowing match-fixing. They have also been at the forefront in criticizing the military's handling of the post-Mubarak transition to democracy, accusing the military of increasing suppression of freedom of expression and the right to protest, and also failing to respond robustly to Israeli provocations.


If one were to accept the above explanation as the cause of the violence at this soccer event, can we draw any conclusions or extrapolate as to the reason why sport events throughout the world are increasingly experiencing more extreme demonstrations of violence during or in conjunction with the event?

Fan violence is not isolated to one nation or one sport. The following examples reveal that the occurrence is global in nature:

? In a shocking event in Central America, 78 people died and 180 others were injured in a stampede at a stadium in Guatemala City before a World Cup qualifying match between Guatemala and Costa Rica.

? The 846 people who were injured as the direct result of hooliganism during the 2010-2011 season in Germany's top two football divisions marks the largest number ever, according to the German government.

? Indonesian police officers evacuated an unconscious woman from the crowd after a stampede inside the stadium during the Southeast Asian Games final soccer match between Indonesia and Malaysia.

? In Los Angeles, California, a fan was nearly beaten to death in the stadium parking lot after an opening day Major League Baseball game.

? In June 2011, fans took to the streets in Vancouver, Canada, after the Stanley Cup Finals, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in property damage, overturning and burning vehicles, and throwing bricks through the windows of business establishments.

? One fan died and 40 others were injured in rash of Brazilian soccer violence that unfoled on a single day in 2009.

To accept the explanation that political unrest and anti-government sentiment is the reason why sport events are experiencing more violence is far too simplistic and one-dimensional. Perhaps a more feasible explanation to consider is the fact that spectator/fan violence at sport events is an indication of the health and well-being of society as a whole. Furthermore, the safety and security that is supporting these events can be viewed as a demonstration of the professionalism and functionality of the infrastructures that are responsible for overseeing the conduct of these events in the respective host communities.

Essentially, we are suggesting that a society with a mature and well developed public safety infrastructure, along with governmental agencies and programs that support and legislatively require safety and security at sport events, will enjoy a much greater probability that these events will avoid the proliferation of threats and incidents of violence we are seeing throughout the world.

Additionally, there is a widely shared belief that sport events provide a stage for a variety of criminal, terrorist and special interest groups or individuals to exploit in order to bring attention to their cause. As a result, sport events provide an appealing opportunity for a variety of aberrant behaviors and motivations to manifest themselves in the form of violence. It is incumbent for host countries to have a national as well as a local strategy for managing safety and security at sporting events. These strategies must be endorsed and funded at the highest levels of government and sport enterprises to gain the necessary support for action.

Many South American countries have also experienced violence and fatalities due to fan behavior for decades. Well over 100 people have been killed in Argentina alone over the last 5 decades at soccer matches due to the violence of a "hooligan" group known as the Barrabarras. Similar to the demographic seen among the Ultras in Egypt, the members of this group are mostly from poorer regions of the country and use these events to act out their frustrations with, and anger against, society.

Until the 1990s, Brazil experienced fatalities at soccer events that were the result of poor crowd management and overzealous fans crushing each other in the course of stampedes that occurred inside stadiums. This type of stadium-based fan violence and demonstrations of club related fervor - such as flag waving, beating drums and foot stomping - has been replaced by a more dangerous breed of violence centered around organized fan clubs, or torcidas organizados. These fan clubs, which are largely populated by young hoodlum-type gang members, show up at matches with knives, bottles, guns and sometimes even homemade bombs and use soccer matches as an opportunity to attack rival gangs or opposing team fans.

Psychologists contend that the violence is the result of Brazil's overwhelming social problems, such as widespread poverty, which leads to increased frustration and aggression. Ironically, the consequences of the violence may only serve to exacerbate the underlying economic problems, as Brazil and other South American countries have experienced diminished attendance at soccer games, resulting in significant revenue losses at these stadiums.

Brazil will be hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Summer Olympic Games in 2016. There is concern - and widespread speculation - that Brazil will not be ready to host these events given the level of poverty that remains throughout the country and critical infrastructures that have not developed the ability to address and satisfactorily counter security threats and violence.


Why were the police unable to prevent this situation from occurring?

Returning to the events in Egypt, media reports indicate the following took place at the Port Said Soccer Stadium on February 2nd:

? "One man told state TV he heard gunshots in the stadium, while a lawmaker from Egypt's powerful Muslim Brotherhood said the police didn't prevent fans carrying knives from entering the stadium."

? "Most of the hundreds of black-uniformed police with helmets and shields stood in lines and did nothing as soccer fans chased each other, some wielding sharp objects and others hurling sticks and rocks."

? "Security officials said the ministry had issued directives for its personnel not to "engage" with civilians after recent clashes between police and protesters in November left more than 40 people dead."

Clearly in the case of the soccer violence in Egypt, the sporting event was used as an opportunity for individuals to lash out against the current regime. In this case, it was not simply about the fervor and passion for sport between fans from opposing sides; rather, it was a convenient opportunity for a political extremist group to lash out against the government. Unfortunately, this event has had a significant and lingering impact on the sport of soccer and the ability of this sport to be separate from politics and violent extremism in certain areas of the world.


Could this situation have been prevented by those responsible for safety and security at this venue? What could have been done to prevent this from happening?

One need only examine the history of hooliganism and the success that has occurred at curbing this kind of activity at sport events to realize that the violence exhibited in Egypt was a result of poor planning by, insufficient training of, and unprofessional actions by event managers along with public safety and government leadership. There is no doubt that intelligence and security professionals responsible for the safety and security of Egypt"s citizenry could - and should - have anticipated this type of violence at the event.

Knowing that this kind of violence was possible should have led to the development of a comprehensive strategic plan to create a security "dragnet" with the objective of preventing and interdicting potential security problems. Such a proactive effort would have included measures to identify problem individuals and known instigators to violence. This has been done effectively in Europe to curb the presence of known hooligans at soccer games. By sharing intelligence between clubs and countries, event managers are able to work closely and more effectively with law enforcement to keep known troublemakers out of the stadiums and in some cases prevent them from entering the country at the border. Additional measures include security screening at entry/access points, undercover police monitoring the troublemakers before they are able to incite rioting, camera surveillance and a trained event security staff positioned throughout the stadium to assist law enforcement with situational awareness and potential problems.

Accurate and timely threat assessments coupled with a security-based methodology, one that includes risk assessments to identify security gaps in conjunction with training and exercising to ensure rapid and effective incident response, are critical to deterring, detecting and preventing violence at these events. If something does occur, a tested response capability must be prepositioned to rapidly mitigate the problem. Not all incidents can be fully predicted, so the key to both prevention and response is to have a clear understanding of the threat, a well-crafted and event-tailored plan, the involvement of trained personnel throughout the process, and thoroughly tested protocols so that when an incident does occur a reliable - and ultimately effective - methodology is in place and ready to be implemented.

The Soufan Group provides expert on-site consulting, planning, and training services to assist clients in addressing the complex security challenges of major event management. These services are produced and delivered by highly experienced subject matter experts, each of whom has provided major event security on a global scale for decades using a methodology proven successful at the world's most notable events, to include multiple Olympic Games.

Our suite of Major Event Security support services includes developing tailored concepts of operations, performing comprehensive risk assessments, crafting detailed emergency action plans, and designing an array of practical exercises to effectively test system and personnel readiness.

In addition, we offer Periodic Threat Assessments that provide updates on transnational, regional and local threats based upon all-source intelligence enhanced by state-of-the-art analysis. For more details on our in-depth individual and group briefings, we invite you to contact The Soufan Group at

Raymond S. Mey is a Senior Program Manager of The Soufan Group. Mr. Mey's distinguished 23-year career with the FBI included assignments with 3 FBI Field Offices, FBI Headquarters (FBIHQ) Counterterrorism Division, and 4 overseas Legal Attache Offices. He is also a veteran of the FBI's elite Hostage Rescue Team (HRT).

James A. McGee is a Senior Program Manager for The Soufan Group. He has twenty-five combined years of law enforcement experience, twenty-one years as a Special Agent with the FBI. During his FBI tenure, Mr. McGee's assignments included 4 FBI Field Offices, Legal Attache Office in Greece, the Critical Incident Response Group-Hostage Rescue Team, and FBI Headquarters.


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