Written by Chris Phillips, founder and Managing Director of the International Protect and Prepare Security Office (IPPSO).
Sports stadia have improved dramatically over the years. But while they are now brilliant places to watch our favourite teams – they have also become an inviting target for terrorists. I can’t help thinking in November 2015 the number one target in Paris was actually the Stade de France and not the Bataclan. Recent incursions into stadiums overnight asks questions again of the levels of security.
Many of us remember what it was like going to a football match in the early 1980s and it wasn’t always a great experience. I remember standing in the “away” area at Stamford Bridge which was effectively an uncovered concrete slope. Looking at a dilapidated ground with a shed at one end and a new stand which was completely out of place at the other. Visiting supporters – instead of being treated like guests – were penned in after the game for an hour, as there was a strong chance they may get their “heads kicked-in” if they dared to walk to the nearby tube station wearing a scarf that had anything but Chelsea emblazoned on it. God it was depressing. But don’t think for one minute this was just a Chelsea problem. Due to my police posting in South London I was unfortunate to regularly police Crystal Palace, Fulham and QPR. And when Wimbledon scrambled themselves into the 1st Division their ground was even worse. It was genuinely dangerous to police looking at the crowd near the goal posts as you were six feet from the goal line. Any misdirected shot put you in severe danger of losing your helmet and your dignity. And with Vinny Jones on the rampage you felt your life could really be in danger!
How different things are now. Everything has improved – the players, the skills, the pitches, the atmosphere. The Stadia and the whole visitor experience have moved into a different class altogether. Many in the UK are now world-class. Billionaires from all over the world have invested in our national sports.
Stadia are huge financial assets and most often physical security measures are built in. High-spec items such as Hostile vehicle mitigation measures have been deployed. All grounds have good access control, state of the art CCTV and speaker systems to protect their most valuable asset.
But because so many people use the stadia many do fall down on accreditation. The sheer numbers of people involved in a big event – whether they are working or visiting – appears to have created a bit of a security blind spot at many grounds.
Now don’t get me wrong – there are some very notable exceptions and some of our stadia have taken the matter seriously and implemented risk assessed accreditation for all staff. But most have not.
It always concerned me as a police ground commander that a terrorist could potentially be serving tea to the Queen at a big event. It’s one of the reasons I introduced passport identity checks for staff at sports events where I was providing counter terrorism policing. The results were frightening. Not only did we find illegal immigrants with forged visas, but also serious criminals who had successfully got jobs at high profile events.
Surely you would want to know if someone with a succession of theft convictions was working inside your ground, or if a person with known terrorist connections was working as a building contractor on the new stand? Of course you would.
It’s vital that the head of HR and The Head of Security set the policies and procedures to manage the risk of staff (including permanent, temporary or contract staff) gaining legitimate access to a venue to commit crime or terrorism. Accreditation is key! Who do you want to have free access to your stadium?
Have a look at your systems. Do you insist on background checks on all staff including caterers and cleaners? Do you have photos on the accreditation badges? Do you have “right to work” checks as standard for all non-UK staff? Would you know if a staff member had lost their right to work in the UK or has been disqualified from driving or convicted of a serious assault?
At the end of the day it’s your stadium and your reputation that’s at stake. Holistic security is the only way to ensure good security. That means physical security measures that focus on external threats, cyber security that protects your information, and personnel security that protects you from the insider threat.
Let’s deter any terrorist from attacking any of our stadia. Good accreditation practices and risk based personnel security measures will play a big part in doing just that.