No Hooligans

In the Excitement Over the EURO 2008, The Biggest Concern is Still Security

Opinion | Ana Valjak | June 2008

The preparations for the Euro 2008 are nearly complete. This is Vienna’s first European Championship and one of the most important sporting events to come to Austria in a long time.

Although the government is already rubbing its hands with glee over the expected revenue, the biggest concern is still over security, protecting citizens and tourists from the hooligans that will be pouring into Austria and Switzerland for the games.

Thus on a recent March 27th police supervisors from competing-countries met in Vienna – including Police Chief Marijan Benko and assistant Marko Rasic represented Croatia – to swap suggestions as to how to protect the host countries. The priority topic was how many foreign police would be sent in for support; the organizers would be picking up all the expenses– which would to be immense, although no one could be sure just how immense until the whole spectacle was done.

The meeting ended with each country receiving assignments for tactics and personnel. Germany, with approximately one thousand policemen, would be sending the most. Croatia would send about sixty officers, although many would be placed on the borders to prevent registered hooligans from entering the country. Naturally there would be more police than officially announced; some would be in plain clothes; perhaps as many as in uniform, going undercover to hang out among the football fans.

"Some officers will be dressed in Croatian uniforms during the Croatian games so the fans can distinguish them better from the crowd," said Marian Benko, chief of police.

They would be sending officers with experience at sporting events. "The only requirement is that they speak English."

At least Austria doesn’t have to worry about the British hooligans who are known worldwide for their aggression from previous games. They are now on a list, and will be screened out at the border.  Still the fear persists. And it is not an unreasonable.

Croatian football fans have become very "popular" especially after the incident in a small Austrian town Kapfenbergu during a friendly game between Dinamo and Rapid Wien. After that unfortunate game, Croatian hooligans started a brawl with local police that lasted over an hour, leaving local residents shaken and afraid.

After that episode it was even questionable if Croatian fans would be allowed into enter Austria during the Euro 2008 at all. The incident was soon hushed up, however, and Croatian fans are  allowed to come to the Euro 2008 as if nothing had happened.

So none of the football fans face restrictions after last year’s incident?

"Actually, there is no way to stop them from entering the country," Benko said. The border is simply too porous. "But we will give additional information to the Austrian police, though, so maybe they will be escorted to the stadium." That should sober them up, at least for a minute or two.

At every football competitions there are certain games that are known as "high risk" where police tolerance is zero. The first was at the 2000 Euro in Belgium and the Netherlands during and after the England-Germany game. The riots lasted for two days and the town of Charleroi in Belgium was under siege, occupied by 20,000 hooligans. Many cars and shop windows were destroyed, more than hundred civilians and football fans requested medical attention. After the incident finished the town of Charleroin seemed like a hurricane hit it.

For this tournament, organizers are looking at the games that Croatia is playing against Poland, Austria and Germany as the potentially high-risk games. One of the biggest concerns are the games scheduled for Klagenfurt, in Carinthia, near the Italian border, since that town is small and it is almost "mission impossible" to separate the opposing fans.

Benko smiled, "There is no "mission impossible" for the police, he said, as if he almost believed it. "Every situation deserves our maximum attention,"

Also, it depends on the situation.

"It will be hard work in Klagenfurt since the town is small and if the hooligans manage to enter it, the chances of separating them will be harder…," he admitted. " But it is not impossible. That is why the preparation needs to be so good as we can possibly make them."

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    the vienna review June 2008