We must do more to kick racism and violence out of sport

As the Conservative Spokesman for sport in the European Parliament, I have always been passionate about campaigning to kick racism, violence and unsafe behaviour out of sport once and for all.

Sports safety is of paramount importance. Supporters, players and staff alike should never have to worry about defective stadiums or violent hooligans in the 21st century. These problems undermine key values of sport, from integrity to fair play and respect for others. Despite sustained and welcome efforts from the U.K., EU and the international community, it is undeniable that these issues require our continued attention.

Problems of violence and inadequate stadium infrastructure came to a head in May 1985 at the Heysel Stadium in Brussels, during the European Cup final between Liverpool and Juventus. It was in the context of this disaster that the Council of Europe drafted the European Convention on Spectator Violence in 1985. This Convention sought to prevent and control violent behaviour and ensure spectator safety at sports events by identifying and prosecuting trouble makers, as well as requiring international cooperation between sports authorities and police forces.

Given the EU’s specific competence in the area of sport, it is essential that stakeholders across sporting communities continue to come together with politicians and policymakers to keep collectively formulating new ways to make sporting events as safe as possible. There has been welcome progress towards enhancing safety at sports events.

However, over decades the Convention’s provisions have become out of date. A Standing Committee of national experts from the Council of Europe, sports authorities, supporters associations and Interpol have since provided recommendations that form the basis of a revision to this Convention.

Within the European Parliament, I am the Rapporteur for the Culture and Education committee’s opinion on revising this Convention. This is the proposal for a European Council decision that would authorise EU Member States to become party to the Convention on an Integrated Safety, Security and Service Approach at football matches and other sports events. As part of this work, I have prioritised raising awareness of methods for monitoring safety and security at sport events.

The Convention emphasises the importance of cooperation and coordination to target threats to safety and security at sporting events. I believe it is essential that partnerships are fostered between policing authorities and key stakeholders in the sporting community such as supporters’ groups. This also means that safety, security and service at sporting events are considered to be three overlapping issues that cannot be addressed by just one single organisation. We need a holistic approach from multiple perspectives.

Although the majority of sports safety measures are the responsibility of individual countries, a key measure introduced by the Convention is the establishment of designated National Football Information Points. These will be a single point of contact for information exchange and international police cooperation on football safety.

In addition, I believe there is a good argument for reviving and expanding standing terraces, which have been banned in English top-flight football since the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. Modern infrastructure and policing have evolved significantly, and Germany offers a successful example of how new safe standing practices can enhance the experience of live sports whilst maintaining safety. In a Premier League survey, 70% of football fans attending games agree in principle that standing should be offered as a choice. The UK Government is currently reviewing practices, and within the framework of implementing the Convention it is an excellent opportunity for governments to consider whether and to what extent safe standing can be integrated into modern sports events.

A safe environment can radically improve ground atmosphere, and allow the conditions for competitive sports to flourish. The English Premier League has become the success it is today by putting spectators first and taming the problem of hooliganism. We need to ratify this Convention as soon as possible to kick violence and misbehaviour out of sport for good.

© Copyright Emma McClarkin
Menu Title